Harvey Weinstein combative and in denial ahead of rape trial, inner circle says
It’s a fall day in midtown Manhattan and a man is seen shuffling along a sidewalk, gripping his walker. His facial expression is vacant, his skin is a pale shade of gray and his clothes are ill-fitting. A passerby might never guess that he used to be one of entertainment’s most powerful, a man whose infamous arrogance would make those around him shudder. This man is Harvey Weinstein.
Since initial bombshell reports by The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual abuse ranging from harassment to rape. He is charged with predatory sexual assault, a criminal sexual act, first-degree rape and third-degree rape. Weinstein’s impending criminal trial, which is set to begin January 6, has depleted him, members of the former film executive’s small inner circle told CNN. The 67-year-old is physically weaker from recent back surgeries, but they don’t describe an otherwise changed man.
CNN has learned from those closest to Weinstein that he isn’t sorry about his alleged misconduct. He’s combative, maintains he is innocent of any crime and is planning for a career comeback post-trial. His attorneys have maintained that any sexual contact between Weinstein and his accusers was consensual.
Two of Weinstein’s remaining friends spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity in order to protect their privacy due to the high-profile nature of his case. Weinstein’s criminal defense attorneys, Donna Rotunno and Damon Cheronis, also gave interviews.
“Anyone who looks at him or talks to him knows this has taken an emotional and physical toll. Is his health failing? Not in a life or death situation, but I think he’s just breaking down,” one of his friends told CNN.
The case against Weinstein centers on an allegation that he raped a woman in a New York hotel room in 2013, and a second woman who accused Weinstein of forcibly performing oral sex on her at his Manhattan apartment in 2006.
Other Weinstein accusers will be permitted to take the stand as witnesses throughout the trial to illustrate an alleged pattern of abusive behavior.
He has pleaded not guilty and has repeatedly denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.
From Tribeca to trial
Weinstein used to spend his days in the Tribeca offices of The Weinstein Company, the movie studio he co-founded in 2005 with his now estranged brother, Bob Weinstein. These days he’s mostly alone in his Manhattan apartment, “obsessing” about the trial and the women who have accused him, said one of his friends.
Weinstein is constantly Googling himself, according to those close to him.
“If his name [is] on it, he reads it,” one friend said.
Weinstein seems to be in denial about how far he’s fallen, the other friend said. He’ll tell old stories about his filmmaking past and raising money for politicians and charities, for example, or bark orders to the small team he employs, according to the source.
“He feels like he is owed an apology from Hollywood,” the source added. “I think there’s a part of him that thinks he will come out on the other side of this and be welcomed back to some version of his old life.”
Rotunno and Cheronis told CNN in separate interviews they are concerned about the widespread media attention Weinstein’s case has received. Stories about his decades of alleged abuse by former employees and A-list performers like Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow, along with the collapse of the once influential Weinstein Company, fueled the #MeToo movement and inspired a cultural reckoning.
“It’s a concern for any lawyer that the media or public attention will infect the jury pool,” Cheronis said.
A motion to move Weinstein’s trial outside of Manhattan was denied in October.
“When you ask what life is like for Harvey, all you have to do is turn on nightly news and see women screaming at him, ‘You’re a rapist,'” Rotunno said. “People have sort of made their decision in the court of public opinion and that’s been my problem with a lot of the coverage.”
Rotunno acknowledged Weinstein may have character flaws, but she’s confident he’ll be acquitted at trial.
“There’s a difference between sins and crimes,” Rotunno said. “You may think that you don’t like the way Harvey conducted himself at times or choices that he’s made, but that doesn’t mean he’s a rapist.”
Rotunno said she speaks to Weinstein daily and every part of their defense strategy is discussed in phone calls or frequent face-to-face meetings. She disputed reports that Weinstein is a difficult client. (Attorneys Benjamin Brafman, Ronald Sullivan and Jose Baez previously represented Weinstein at different times and all withdrew from the case.)
Rotunno and Cheronis both said they do not yet know whether Weinstein will take the stand to testify in his defense.
Tina Tchen, the former chief of staff to Michelle Obama and now President and CEO of Time’s Up, described Weinstein’s upcoming trial as a pinnacle for the movement against gender inequity and abuse of power.
“This moment was years in the making,” Tchen told CNN. “The fact that two years later, we are still talking about how powerful people and powerful companies can and must do better to create safe, fair, and dignified workplaces shows just how far we’ve come.”
Isolated and lying low
It’s unclear how much Weinstein has evolved, if at all.
Despite weekly “intense therapy” sessions, both of Weinstein’s friends told CNN that he remains adamant he’s done nothing criminal and believes the accusations against him are “motivated by fame.”
“Harvey thinks every single woman is seeking their 15 minutes and believes these were simply affairs,” the source said. “He seems more upset that he’s been stripped of his power and less about trying to take this as an opportunity to become a changed man.”
In a statement to CNN, Caitlin Dulany, an actress who has accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her during the Cannes Film Festival in 1996, said she is hopeful he will be held accountable at his upcoming trial.
“He used his influence and power to assault and silence us for over 20 years. The repercussions to our lives and careers have been devastating and still continue,” Dulany said. “I have to trust that the criminal justice system will serve those of us who were the victims of his many crimes and will protect other women who may potentially be vulnerable to his predations in the future.”
But Weinstein, according to his friends, believes the accusations are lies “put together” with small facts.
“If you were to ask him if he wore a bathrobe for meetings with actresses in his hotel room, like what Ashley Judd said happened, he’d tell you it’s a lie and that he was wearing pajamas,” one source said. “He claims he’s never forced himself on anyone.”
Louise Godbold, who came forward with her own allegations against Weinstein in an October 2017 blog post, told CNN in a statement, “This trial has been two long years in the making but is at least 30 years overdue.”
It was the early ’90s and Godbold, a commercial producer at the time, was seeking an internship at Miramax, according to The Wrap, and claims that Weinstein cornered her while giving her a tour of his Tribeca offices.
“Out of nowhere he grabs my hand and puts it on his crotch,” Godbold told The Wrap last year. “Which was incredibly shocking because I’d known this man for many years and had never had any inkling that he would behave in such a way.”
She claims that Weinstein apologized to her and invited her to the Beverly Hills Hotel the following month for a meeting in his hotel room. She told The Wrap that he changed into a bathrobe and asked for a massage. She never reported Weinstein to the police.
“He calls me into the bedroom and he’s taken all his clothes off and he’s lying face down in the bed,” Godbold said in her interview with the outlet. “Suffice to say, I did the worst shoulder massage in history and then he threw back the covers and let’s just say I could see that my shoulder massage had much more effect than I would have credited it.”
“I said, ‘I’ve got to go, my friend is waiting downstairs,’ and I shot out of there.”
With just about two months until jury selection, Weinstein is restless.
“I don’t think this man sleeps at this point,” said one of the insiders. “He wakes up, reads the news, has medical appointments for back problems and other health issues, blood pressure, goes to therapy. But he’s alone with not many people to call who aren’t on his payroll.”
The friend added that Weinstein knows the public sees him as “the fat, ugly monster.”
“He’s sitting in his house either afraid if he goes out he’s going to get called out, yelled at or TMZ is going to snap a picture of him,” one of the sources added.
Weinstein was described as living a “lonely” and “isolating” existence. Instead of attending industry events, he’s become a voracious reader of three or more books a week.
Weinstein no longer speaks to his brother, the sources said.
CNN has reached out to Bob Weinstein for comment.
And while Rotunno has recommended Weinstein “lay low,” he’s “not hiding.”
“He is trying to live as normal as a life that he can with his two young children and trying to be a dad,” she said. “I understand the desire to not want to [hide] given what’s upcoming and the fact that he’s facing spending the rest of his life in prison.”
Thinking of his future
As for the life Weinstein once shared with his ex-wife, Georgina Chapman, their divorce is his “biggest regret,” according to his friends. Chapman left Weinstein when the allegations against him surfaced in 2017. They currently only talk when it comes to co-parenting their children.
“He’s very remorseful about everything that happened that caused the relationship to break up,” one source said. “[But] in a way, he’s just sorry he got caught. Had it not been for the #MeToo movement, he believes they would still be together.”
As Weinstein preps for trial, Chapman has been trying to stage a comeback for her fashion line, Marchesa.
Two sources in the fashion industry, who requested anonymity for fear of professional retribution, told CNN that Chapman’s connection to her ex-husband has made it nearly impossible for the company to experience a resurgence.
Established in 2004 by Chapman and her college-friend turned business partner, Keren Craig, the line became a success, in part, due to the influence of Weinstein, who allegedly pressured actresses in his films to wear his wife’s ultra-femme and elegant designs on the red carpet, according to one of the fashion industry insiders who worked with Chapman.
Chapman now resides in the wealthy enclave of Bedford Hills, NY. She bought a farm in 2018, trading the quaint streets of the West Village for life behind a gated home off a winding dirt road, calling fellow celebrities Martha Stewart, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds her neighbors.
She’s been seen in local shops, according to business owners CNN spoke to, but generally keeps a low profile. In 2019, she made her first public appearance since the accusations against her ex-husband surfaced, standing alongside Constance Wu at the 2019 Met Gala. Chapman was personally invited by Anna Wintour, one of the fashion insiders told CNN.
Marchesa was recently hiring for a number of roles, including a social media manager, an account executive, and a bridal sales executive in the company’s New York office. One of the fashion industry sources, who worked with Marchesa on special projects in the past, told CNN the company used to have a “cut-throat” environment where employees competed for prestigious roles.
“Listen, it’s definitely not her fault, but she knew in some ways his power-mongering,” the second fashion insider said, citing Weinstein’s reputation for pressuring artists to wear Marchesa designs when the two were married.
A May 2018 Vogue interview by Wintour meant to defend Chapman fell flat with many in the fashion community, the sources said. Chapman’s business partner left the company earlier this year.
CNN has reached out to a representative of Chapman for comment.
Both of Weinstein’s friends and Rotunno acknowledge the former producer, too, has thoughts about rebuilding his life. If acquitted, Weinstein wants to continue to make films and potentially set up a production company in Europe, they said.
“I think he does see life after this,” Rotunno said. “I think that’s a very positive thing. I think if I was looking at the evidence we are all looking at, I would see life after this as well. I do think I’m one of the people who has said all along if we win this case, I think that he can come back even stronger.”
But there are other moments when Weinstein contemplates a future behind bars and “he’s frightened,” according to his friends.
“The way he comes off sometimes is he tries to look like he’s not [scared] and tries to act like he’s walking around, just casually, but he’s not,” one of the friends said. “He’s afraid.”
CNN’s Marianne Garvey contributed to this report.