the law

Weinstein’s First Defense Witness Completely Backfired

Photo: Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock

The first witness to testify for Harvey Weinstein in his Manhattan rape and sexual-assault trial, longtime friend Paul Feldsher, quickly proved to be a poor ally for the disgraced producer, admitting to jurors Thursday, “Harvey had a sex addiction.”

The dramatic revelation came amid repeated barb-trading between prosecutors and defense lawyers. “This is not a show,” lead Weinstein attorney Donna Rotunno groused at one point. “Objection, judge! Leading! Leading! Leading!,” lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi remarked at one point during Feldsher’s testimony.

Weinstein’s defense team had brought in Feldsher, a film producer, as a witness to discredit the actress Annabella Sciorra, who had testified that Weinstein raped her around late 1993. Through questioning, Rotunno had Feldsher say that he was close with Sciorra in the early 1990s. Responding to Rotunno’s questions, Feldsher said that he and Sciorra were taking a walk one day and “I remember Annabella saying to me that she’d done this crazy thing with Harvey.”

Rotunno was not permitted to ask Feldsher whether he thought the comment was “sexual in nature,” but the intent of this line of questioning was clear: She wanted to discredit Sciorra by making the alleged encounter seem consensual. During Rotunno’s questioning of Feldsher, three jurors could be seen sharing candy with one another.

Feldsher backfired for Weinstein’s team soon after prosecutors got their chance to question him. Illuzzi — whose résumé includes landing a high-profile murder conviction without a body — immediately pointed out that the witness refused to talk to prosecutors about the case.

Feldsher said he was testifying via subpoena (basically, a court order requiring that he show up to testify), and it went downhill from there.

“Did you speak to the defendant about coming here and testifying?” Illuzzi asked.

“I talked to him,” he said. “Harvey is my friend. I’ve talked to him for a long time.”

Feldsher, via Illuzzi’s questioning, said that he had spoken to Weinstein’s team twice.

Then came the text messages.

“Sir, I have a pile of documents that I’d like you to take a look at,” Illuzzi said, referring to exchanges Feldsher and Weinstein had after allegations against Weinstein went public.

“Do you recognize these as text messages, or your part of the messages, between you and the defendant, Harvey Weinstein?”

“I do.”

“You say, ‘There is likely a bunch of truth to the claims that you behaved like a cad and more,” she said, quoting the text. “Your appetite and ambition for the things you want — a script, a movie, and yes, a girl — are, to put it mildly, voracious.”

Feldsher said that he meant that Weinstein was “very dogged in the pursuit of projects and extremely aggressive in acquiring materials.”

She pressed Feldsher on what he meant.

“It was my understanding, for a very long time, that Harvey had a sex addiction and that he dated a lot of women,” Feldsher said.

Illuzzi also asked Feldsher about a text to Weinstein in which he wrote, “If a lot of these girls had been my daughter, I would have wanted to beat the shit out of you.”

“My daughter’s 13,” he said.

“I was also trying to be a friend. I know the extremes of your personality, the extremes of his appetite, but I did not believe he was capable of the things he’d been charged with,” he said.

“But you knew he was a sex addict, right?”

“I am not a clinician,” he said, reiterating his belief that Weinstein had a “voracious” appetite for women.

“I should not have said sex addict.”

“I had no idea that my text messages would end up in a courtroom,” he said at one point.

Illuzzi pounced on Feldsher’s claim that he was friends with Sciorra.

“Did you say you think ‘She’s full of shit’?”

“Yes.”

Illuzzi also asked if he wrote to Weinstein, “I know you guys had an awkward whatever the fuck 20 years ago,” regarding Sciorra.

“Did you say, ‘Well, the rape version got her an agent at [Creative Artists Agency], so there’s that’?” she asked about a text. “Then at some point, you say Annabella is an asshole, is that right?

“Yes.”

“But here in court, you said you care about Annabella?”

“I think that both could be true for a lot of people,” he said.

“So, sir, is it correct to say that you were saying things that you thought Harvey Weinstein wanted to hear?”

“Um, yes.”

“And that’s what you’re doing today, aren’t you, sir?” Illuzi said, pointing at him. “Aren’t you, sir, aren’t you saying things in this courtroom that Harvey wants to hear?”

“Categorically no.”

“Did you say, sir, ‘I think the dogpile of actresses who are suddenly ‘brave’ and recalling suppressed memories is hideous’?” she asked of a text from Feldsher to Weinstein.

“I did.”

“When you said ‘dogpile of women,’ what did you mean?”

“I meant a plethora, I was not referring to the animal,” he answered.

Illuzzi also brought up a text that Feldsher sent to Sciorra “in the middle of telling Harvey Weinstein she’s a liar and she’s an asshole.”

In part of that text, Feldsher writes, “Current events are way too much for text but obviously, acknowledgement goes to that awfulness.”

Illuzzi also pointed to a text to Weinstein in which Feldsher wrote, “Unless and until you make some kind of confession or are proven legally guilty, I will continue to be the controversial-cum-inappropriate person who defends you.

Cum is latin for ‘also.’ I’m not referring to semen,” Feldsher said in a matter-of-fact tone that made one wonder whether he knew about mansplaining. “I did say that, and I stand by that.”

“In that series of text messages, did Harvey Weinstein tell you that he loved you?” Illuzzi also asked.

Rotunno objected unsuccessfully.

Illuzzi showed him the text.

“I love you, the letter U, yes,” he said.

“That was from Harvey Weinstein to you?”

“I believe he’s the other person in this text. I can vouch for my text. Somebody could have grabbed his phone, I can only verify my own texts are my own texts,” he said.

Weinstein’s defense team is expected to call additional witnesses tomorrow, including a memory expert and screenwriter Warren Leight. Rotunno said in court that Leight would testify that Sciorra showed up drunk to the set of the movie The Night We Never Met to undermine the actress’s claim that she abused alcohol following the alleged rape.

Weinstein’s First Defense Witness Completely Backfired