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In Harvey Weinstein’s trial, the defense questions the behavior of women accusing him

The trial of Harvey Weinstein, the former movie mogul accused of rape and sexual assault, has been emotionally charged and tense. So far, five women have testified that Weinstein abused them. The fifth, Jessica Mann, has been at the center of a grueling cross-examination Monday and Tuesday -- and she is a key witness in the case. Amna Nawaz reports and talks to NPR’s Rose Friedman for the latest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The trial of Harvey Weinstein, the former movie mogul accused of rape and sexual assault, has been especially charged, emotional and tense.

    So far, five women have testified during the trial that Weinstein raped or sexually assaulted them. The fifth, Jessica Mann, has been at the center of a grueling cross-examination yesterday and today.

    As Amna Nawaz tells us, she is a key witness in this case.

    And a warning for younger viewers: This segment includes sensitive subject matter.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    Jessica Mann testified last week that Weinstein raped and assaulted her in March of 2013. During an intense cross-examination yesterday that left Mann in tears, attorneys for Weinstein grilled her on why she maintained a relationship with him after the assaults.

    Weinstein's lawyers have repeatedly raised questions about the credibility of his accusers.

    Now, Weinstein has denied the allegations, saying any and all interactions with the women were consensual.

    Joining me now is Rose Friedman. She's associate editor at NPR. She has been following this story in court.

    Rose, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    I should mention, more than 80 women in the last couple of years have accused Weinstein of sexual assault.

    But Jessica Mann in this particular trial has been described as a star witness. Why is that? Who is Jessica Mann, and what is it about her story that's so compelling for prosecutors?

  • Rose Friedman:

    Well, she had the longest relationship with Harvey Weinstein.

    She was an aspiring actress when she came to L.A. She was around 25. And she met him at party. And he asked for her contact information. And they started chatting. He told her he was interested in her as an actress.

    And then she ended up in this long five-year relationship with him, which she described as abusive and degrading, but she said he could also be very charming, so kind of inspired fear, but also could really help her out in some situations.

    The reason that she's the star witness is because she knows him the best.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Rose, what is it that jurors are hearing from Jessica Mann when she's up there testifying?

  • Rose Friedman:

    She told a couple of different stories about being assaulted by Weinstein. The one that he's charged with in New York happened at a DoubleTree in Manhattan.

    She says she was staying there with friends, and she was supposed to have a breakfast meeting with him and her friends, and that he showed up early and checked into the hotel. And she got a call from the front desk saying he was there.

    So, she kind of goes downstairs and says, why are you checking into the hotel?

    And, according to her, he got very angry and said: You're embarrassing me. Let's talk about this upstairs in my room.

    So, she went upstairs to the room with him, where he assaulted her.

    That's not the only story she told. She told another quite violent story about being assaulted in L.A. But that is the only one that happened in New York, so that's why he's charged in New York.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, in this second day of testifying yesterday, there was the moment we mentioned at the introduction.

    She's being cross-examined by Weinstein's lawyers. She begins crying uncontrollably, so much so that the judge has to suspend and end the testimony for the day.

    What was going on in that moment? You have been in that room. Describe for us the line of questioning and how you watched it unfold.

  • Rose Friedman:

    So, Weinstein's attorney Donna Rotunno was questioning her.

    And Donna was taking her through hundreds of e-mails between her and Weinstein, trying to show that they were having sort of a nice, friendly, sometimes flirtatious relationship, sometimes transactional.

    And they got to this letter that Jessica Mann had written to her then-boyfriend about Weinstein. And it was very personal letter. And it mentioned a sexual assault in Jessica Mann's past. And that was sort of the moment when she started crying and had to leave the courtroom.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that line of questioning, though, I have been reading a lot, including your reporting on that.

    This was something that his attorneys, Weinstein's attorneys, came back to again and again with other women, saying, why would you keep in touch with someone who allegedly assaulted you?

    Did you see that as a consistent theme for them?

  • Rose Friedman:

    Yes, that's pretty much their defense, is, these women sort of kept coming back to him, asking him for things, letting him help them out.

    Jessica Mann at some point was having trouble with her car. And he — his office talked her through it. So, people would sort of come back to him again and again. And that's the way that they were trying to sort of prove that these relationships were consensual, although, at some point, Jessica Mann, answering a question today, said to Harvey Weinstein's lawyer: It's irrelevant. All of this irrelevant. The fact is that he raped me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, how is the prosecution handling that?

    Because a lot of people out there will hear that and say: I find that very hard to believe. Both can't be true, that these women would say that this person raped or assaulted them, and then they continue to be in touch with him.

  • Rose Friedman:

    Well, the prosecution has a couple ways of dealing with that.

    One is that they had an expert witness come in, in the very beginning of the trial to talk about behavior that often goes along with being assaulted. And what that expert witness said is that most assault victims don't react in the classic way that you think that they would react, where they would just sort of cut the person out of their life and never see him again, that, a lot of times, people end up going back to their assaulter for various reasons.

    Another way that they're dealing with it is by having multiple women testify. So, we're going to hear from six women in this case, hoping that sort of piling up those stories will help sort of convince the jury that this was a real pattern of behavior, and that, no matter what you hear from the defense, the fact that there are six women willing to testify in this case, and probably more outside of the case, is what's going to tip the scale.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will be watching and watching your reporting as well.

    Rose Friedman of NPR has been covering the trial of Harvey Weinstein in New York.

    Thanks, Rose.

  • Rose Friedman:

    Thank you.

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