Harvey Weinstein defense attorney Donna Rotunno began cross-examining a key prosecution witness Friday afternoon, aiming to portray her to the jury as a careerist scenester and not a victim of sexual assault.
“You wanted the benefits of the relationship,” Rotunno said to Jessica Mann, who earlier in the day had detailed multiple incidents of sexual assault, coercion and harassment by Weinstein. Rather than the criminal acts Mann described, Rotunno said Mann “lied” by hiding her ongoing ties with Weinstein, which — as the prosecution has conceded — included instances of consensual sex.
“You talked about how manipulated you felt by Harvey Weinstein, but you were manipulating him to get invited to fancy parties,” Rotunno charged. “I was not manipulating him,” Mann replied.
At the same time, Mann described a complicated stretch of years in the mid-2000s when she fell into Weinstein’s orbit. Despite feeling “abused,” she also maintained a certain “compassion” for Weinstein.
Mann is one of two accusers whose allegations against Weinstein (hers in 2013, Mimi Haleyi in 2006) form the basis of the five felony counts against him. Her testimony will continue Monday and prosecutors have one more witness to call after that before turning things over to the defense in the middle of next week. The trial has run for four weeks and is a bit ahead of initial projects that it would stretch into March.
Weinstein has maintained that all sexual encounters with all of his accusers have been consensual. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
According to Mann, on several occasions, Weinstein raped her orally and vaginally, a sequence that began with him demanding a massage at a suite at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA after the two had met there for dinner. Mann said she complied and rubbed his back with lotion for five to 10 minutes, describing for the jury the “uncomfortable” texture of his pimply skin.
“You found that you could overlook what was grotesque to you about his back and grotesque about his look because you knew he could help advance your career,” Rotunno asserted.
Over prosecutors’ objections, she had Mann read aloud in full a blog post that was never published but was intended for a blog maintained by Mann. Before reading it, Mann noted her intention of writing “exaggerated,” comedic pieces rooted in her experiences. The piece detailed her experiences having threesomes, and in the defense view contradicted Mann’s earlier characterization of an abortive threesome with Weinstein and another woman as “horrifying.”
After growing up in a Pentecostal evangelist “cult” in Washington state, Mann has said she broke with her family and moved to LA. Along with that shift came a looser view of sexuality, Rotunno maintained. “You decided anything goes,” Rotunno said. “You decided to go after married men, didn’t you?”
With the jury comprised of people not familiar with the customs and idiosyncrasies of the film business, Rotunno sought to emphasize how unusual it would be for people in a business setting to be engaging in the kind of behavior alleged by Mann. When Weinstein removed his shirt at the Peninsula, Rotunno said, “At that point, did you know it wasn’t a business meeting anymore? That’s not part of any business meeting I’ve ever been a part of.”
When he lay down on the bed, Rotunno continued, “you didn’t walk out of that hotel room. … You had a choice to walk out of that hotel room and never see Harvey Weinstein again.”
Mann replied, “I didn’t want to offend him and I wanted to de-escalate the situation.”