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In Weinstein trial, the most ‘complex’ testimony may have been the most credible

When allegations of sexual misconduct against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein were revealed in 2017, they marked a milestone for what became the international MeToo movement. Weinstein was convicted Monday on two felony sex counts but acquitted of the most serious charges, including predatory sexual assault. Variety's Elizabeth Wagmeister joins Amna Nawaz to discuss the trial details and outcome.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are many ways the MeToo movement began before the allegations about former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein were revealed in 2017, but there is no question that the Weinstein investigation was a milestone moment for what would become an international movement.

    And, as Amna Nawaz tells us, Weinstein's conviction today on two felony sex counts is seen as another important milestone.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    Six women testified during the trial that Weinstein assaulted them, but it was cases involving two of those women, Jessica Mann, a former actress, and Miriam Haleyi, a former production assistant, that led to the convictions.

    Now, Weinstein was found guilty by a jury of seven men and five woman — five women, rather — on charges of rape in the third degree and criminal sexual assault. He was acquitted of the most serious charges, rape in the first degree and predatory sexual assault.

    Elizabeth Wagmeister was in the courtroom today. She has been there through the entire trial. She reports for "Variety." And she joins me now.

    Elizabeth, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    You were in that room. Everyone has been watching that courtroom from the outside. When the verdict was read, what was the reaction in the room, and specifically from Harvey Weinstein?

  • Elizabeth Wagmeister:

    It's interesting, because, after covering this since January 6 — it has obviously been a very long trial — everyone that has been in that courtroom every day, we have just been waiting for this moment.

    And when the moment finally came, it almost seemed surreal. I'm telling you, there were no loud audible gases, there was no screaming. It felt like nobody in there was breathing when they were just waiting to hear what the verdict was.

    Now, I looked directly at Harvey Weinstein, as I had done throughout this entire trial, and his face looked just stone cold. It looked like there was no reaction really whatsoever.

    But I have got to be honest, it was hard to see Harvey because he was surrounded by a swarm of court officers. Of course, every day, there are officers inside the courtroom, but the second that that bell rang and they said, the jury has reached a verdict, double the amount of officers that are usually in there came.

    And they surrounded Harvey. Now, he didn't do anything that would signal that he needed the court officers to be there, but, of course, it's typical that they do surround the defendant. And they certainly did today.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, as we mentioned, that he was found guilty on those two counts, right? Those related to the cases involving two women whose testimony you heard in great detail, Jessica Mann and Miriam Haleyi.

    We haven't heard from jurors yet, so we don't know why they decided the way that they did. But from what you heard in the courtroom, what do you think was most compelling in their testimony that may have led to those guilty charges?

  • Elizabeth Wagmeister:

    You know, what is really interesting is, particularly with Jessica Mann, she had a grueling testimony.

    It took three days. She had to be taken off the stand numerous times because she was crying. At one point, we overheard her in the courtroom saying that she felt like she was having a panic attack.

    And there was a lot of conversation about how complex her testimony was. Would jurors believe her? Of course, the defense, they brought up a lot of evidence of phone records, texts, e-mails from these women, but particularly Jessica Mann.

    She had about five years of communication with Harvey Weinstein. She admitted on the stand, she said, yes, part of this relationship was consensual, but it was complex, he was abusive, and that does not change that he raped me on the day in March 2013.

    So that was really the most surprising part of the jury's verdict, that they did decide to convict Harvey on rape in the third degree, which came from Jessica Mann.

    So I would imagine that something of her testimony was very compelling to them. Maybe, actually, what his defense was thinking would not be credible with her, the fact that it was so complex, that could have actually worked in her favor, that the jurors said, this is clearly so complex, that there's something here. We believe this woman. She seems so credible, even though she almost seems uncredible.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Elizabeth, this is the thing everyone is wondering, we may not know in this moment, but it is what this moment now means.

    You were in there every day watching the testimony, hearing what people had to say, hearing the defense attorneys.

    Do you think you can say, OK, this is the significance of this verdict right now? What's your biggest takeaway from the trial?

  • Elizabeth Wagmeister:

    I think the biggest takeaway is that Harvey certainly is in was emblematic of a big, powerful figure, certainly in Hollywood, but, also, this stretches across to numerous different industries.

    Now, this is something that his defense brought up from day one, in their way of saying, this is why this trial isn't fair. He is Harvey Weinstein. He's been the poster boy, basically, of a whole movement. That's why this isn't fair, and that's why he should be found not guilty.

    Now, clearly, that's not what the jury came to. But I think that's the big takeaway. That is the significance, that, for all of these years, certainly in Hollywood, which is the industry that I cover, that Harvey Weinstein has been seen as a big, powerful figure that could never, ever be taken down, so to speak.

    And now that has shown that, in a court of law, that women can be heard. These are allegations. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but, today, we saw he was found guilty on two different charges.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's Elizabeth Wagmeister, reports from "Variety," joining us from New York tonight.

    Thank you.

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