As the dust settles over the Harvey Weinstein trial, following the disgraced movie mogul’s conviction in New York for rape and a criminal sex act that could see him put behind bars for up to 29 years, a looming question remains: how did he evade justice for so long?
Miriam Haley, a then Project Runway production assistant on whom Weinstein, 67, forced oral sex at his SoHo apartment, was attacked in 2006. Dawn Dunning, an aspiring actor who Weinstein lured to the InterContinental hotel in Manhattan then offered her movie roles on the condition she had a threesome with him and another woman, endured that humiliation in 2004.
The actor Ashley Judd, who was not involved in the trial, alleges the movie producer sexually harassed her in 1996, while her fellow star Rose McGowan says she was sexually assaulted by him the following year.
Weinstein continues to insist that all his sexual encounters were consensual. But with 105 women now having leveled accusations against him, and with his sentencing set for 11 March, how he managed to avoid trouble for decades is now a burning issue.
Much of the answer appears to lie in the army of helpers he deployed to deflect and silence his accusers. Glimpses of that horde of auxiliaries – the word “enablers” has been used – flashed up in the course of the seven-week trial.
They ranged from the lowly limousine drivers employed to transport women discreetly to “business meetings” in hotel rooms to the internationally – renowned lawyers who drew up gagging non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). The court also heard of Black Cube, the firm of corporate private detectives founded by former Israeli intelligence agents.
A key element of the elaborate network of Weinstein helpers were the female assistants. At trial, the jury heard of several who were used to arrange “appointments” with his potential victims, luring them with offers of auditions or production jobs, then making them disappear when all was done.
Some of the assistants appear to have themselves been abused. The other woman in Weinstein’s intended threesome with Dunning was his assistant who was present in the hotel room when he made the proposition.
The assistant’s lawyer has told the Guardian that she is still traumatized from the brief time she worked for the film producer and is “a victim of Weinstein herself”.
Other Weinstein acquaintances testified in court and denied the role they were alleged to have played in enabling Weinstein to molest young women. Claudia Salinas, a Mexican model, disputed in front of the jury the account given by one of the six accusers, Lauren Young, who said she was trapped with Weinstein inside a bathroom in a Beverly Hills hotel in 2013 after Salinas shut the door on them.
Weinstein then went on to grope Young and masturbate in front of her, she said.
“I would never close the door on anybody, ever,” Salinas countered.
Once journalists from the New York Times and the New Yorker began to investigate the Hollywood titan’s track record with women, Weinstein took his network to another level. Over the years he wielded NDAs like weapons, reaching multiple settlements with women in which they received large payouts in return for their absolute silence.
Many top lawyers were recruited in the effort. When their names emerged in the flurry of revelations that triggered the #MeToo movement, eyebrows were sharply raised.
They included David Boies, a giant among liberal lawyers in America who until his work for Weinstein became public knowledge was best known for having represented Al Gore in his epic fight with George Bush in the 2000 presidential election and for his efforts on behalf of same-sex marriage.
One of the jaw-dropping disclosures was that Boies contracted private detectives to try to foil the New York Times from exposing Weinstein at a time when the lawyer was also employed as a legal counsel to the newspaper. The Times promptly severed relations with him.
Farrow revealed that it was Boies’s signature on the contract with Black Cube, the detective outfit populated by many former Mossad agents. At the trial at the New York supreme court the same contract was discussed in legal argument, with prosecutors noting that Black Cube was expecting to be paid $300,000 if they succeeded in scuppering the New York Times investigation.
Another helper who raised eyebrows was Lisa Bloom, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who made her name representing the victims of sexual abuse, including several of the women trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein. Her reputation as a champion for survivors imploded when it emerged she had been retained by Weinstein in 2016 to help him beat back his detractors.
In one devastating email from Bloom to the movie mogul, she said she felt equipped to help him “against the Roses of the world” – a reference to Rose McGowan. “They start out as impressive, bold women, but the more one presses for evidence, the weaknesses and lies are revealed … Clearly she must be stopped in her ridiculous, defamatory attacks on you.”
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Bloom declined to admit she had written the memo, citing legal action. “Everything in that memo, if I did say it, I certainly don’t believe now,” she said.
The final layer that has to be scrutinised in any post-trial reckoning involves the criminal justice system itself. Over decades law enforcement and prosecutors failed to engage with Weinstein despite some clear signals.
This is an especially sensitive subject in the wake of the New York trial which was prosecuted under Cyrus Vance, the New York district attorney. In 2015 the same Cyrus Vance decided not to prosecute Weinstein after a Filipina-Italian model Ambra Gutierrez alleged he had groped her, even though she had obtained a taped audio recording in which the movie mogul made what sounded like a confession.