This week, one of the more high-profile Jane Does to testify in Harvey Weinstein’s Los Angeles sex abuse trial took the stand in what appeared to be a prolonged exercise in torture. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker and the First Lady of California, underwent two days of grueling testimony that began with a story not at all unfamiliar to the jury at this point in the trial, and ended with a cross-examination that’s already been called “combative” and “emotional,” and aptly likened to 1940's era misogyny.
On Monday, Siebel Newsom, who court documents identify as Jane Doe #4, began by telling the jury of her introduction to the predatory producer at the Toronto Film Festival in 2005. The then-31-year-old filmmaker was working as an actress. “I had little roles, guest-starring roles on TV shows and films, and I was working on some short films, I’d been in two features…but they were small roles,” she recalled. Upon meeting Weinstein, she remembered how large and imposing he was, so much so that when he entered the space, the crowd around him seemed to stand back: “It felt like the Red Sea was parting.”
Siebel Newsom then recalled Weinstein introducing himself to her and asking her to meet later, to which she agreed. “I felt like I had to go meet with him…maybe he’ll give me good advice...I thought that there was a genuine interest in talking to me about my work,” she said, adding she and a friend met with Weinstein at a hotel bar.
After the festival, Weinstein contacted her and asked if she’d like to meet for a drink or a meal and discuss her film projects. Naturally, the “meeting” took place at a hotel (this time, the Peninsula) where a waiting assistant directed her to his suite. Siebel Newsom then testified that everyone in the room left, with the exception of her and Weinstein, who was “uninterested” in hearing about her film projects. “He abruptly got up and said I’m going to go get more comfortable,” she told the jury.
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She recalled that Weinstein called to her from down a hallway and asked for help with his robe. As she approached him, she realized he was masturbating. “Then I saw that he was touching himself, and he grabbed me,” she said through tears. She testified that he eventually dragged her to the bedroom and raped her as she said no with her voice and her body. “He was asserting himself and tried to tell me that he—he mentioned several actresses names—he tried to tell me that this was the industry, and in a way, like, threaten me,” she said.
“He knows this is not normal, he knows this is not consent,” Siebel Newsom continued. She said she simulated an orgasm to “get him to ejaculate faster” so that she could get away. “I could tell he just needed, he was so determined, just so scary, just all about him and his pleasure, his need for satisfaction, so I just did it to make it stop.” When asked by a prosecutor why she remained in the suite and didn’t immediately attempt to flee, she replied: “Because you don’t say no to Harvey Weinstein. He could make or ruin your career. I thought I was going to discuss my projects.”
Siebel Newsom was then put under cross-examination, led by Weinstein’s defense attorney, Mark Werksman. It should be noted that during his opening statements last month, Werksman said the following of Siebel Newsom: “She’s made herself a prominent victim in the #MeToo movement…otherwise she’d be just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.” If he crossed a line then, Werksman hurdled over several on Tuesday.
With the aid of a binder of printed correspondence between Siebel Newsom and Weinstein, Werksman reportedly spent over two hours displaying dozens of emails showing that Siebel Newsom arranged business meetings with Weinstein, asked for his professional advice, and sought political donations for her husband, California Governor Gavin Newsom. The emails, Werksman insinuated, were evidence that Weinstein couldn’t possibly have traumatized Siebel Newsom, let alone raped her. She countered that keeping a “cordial” relationship was crucial to remaining successful in the industry and to her husband’s political career, considering Weinstein’s status as a prominent donor to the Democratic Party. “I was scared of him, but I was trying to be nice,” Siebel Newsom said, adding that she tried to “pretend like in my head nothing had happened” to “take control back.”
“I know that doesn’t make sense…But if you haven’t been traumatized, it doesn’t make sense,” she noted. Werksman eventually zeroed in on Gov. Newsom accepting money from a man his wife alleged had raped her. “He didn’t know it was bad money until the whole world knew about the #MeToo movement in Oct. 2017?” Werksman asked. “Is that just politics? That you just take money from someone who has done something despicable to your wife, unless everybody finds out about it?” Of the email correspondence, she said it was strictly “business.”
In a different appalling exchange, Werksman asked Siebel Newsom to specify just how she “indicated her pleasure” during Weinstein’s alleged sexual assault of her, implying that she detail or demonstrate how she faked an orgasm. “This is not When Harry Met Sally. I’m not doing that,” she replied. The remainder of the lengthy back-and-forth between Siebel Newsom and Werksman was wracked by racheting tension, abrupt interruptions, and the former’s sobs.“I feel like you are jumping around,” Siebel Newsom said at one point. Werksman replied, “Well, I feel like I’m asking you questions and you’re not answering.” Later, she took a deep breath and told the court that Werksman’s questioning made her tired, to which he fired back: “Oh, are you too tired to testify?”
Siebel Newsom broke down and said, “Sir, what you’re doing today is exactly what he did to me.”
When Werksman’s cross examination concluded, prosecutor Marlene Martinez questioned Siebel Newsom once more. “In those emails, were you flirting?”
“No!” Siebel Newsom responded through tears. The deputy district attorney then asked about the alleged rape: “Were you ever asking to have sexual intercourse?” and “Did you consent?” Siebel Newsom continued crying on the stand, yelling, “No! No!” Upon exiting the courtroom, Siebel Newsom was sobbing, as noted by several court reporters.
“Over the last several days my client, Jane Doe #4, took the very difficult and painful step to publicly recount her sexual assault at the hands of Harvey Weinstein,” her attorney, Elizabeth Fegan told Variety after the testimony. “She knew that it might have been easier to keep the memory of her 2005 assault buried, but she could not. She felt an obligation to herself, her family and, most important, to the women who came forward, as well as the women unable to speak out publicly. Throughout her testimony, she demonstrated tremendous strength and resolve in telling her truth and stood fast as Weinstein’s defense team ruthlessly tried to discredit her. Her courage in the face of these harrowing circumstances is admirable.”
Following Siebel Newsom’s testimony, the judge presiding over the case dropped 4 of the 11 charges against Weinstein, as prosecutors said they no longer intend to proceed with counts connected to one of the accusers, Jane Doe #5. If Weinstein is ultimately found guilty in the eight-week trial, he could receive an additional 140 years in prison.