In an exclusive interview, Harvey Weinstein’s new defense attorney tells “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King she’s confident he’ll be exonerated in the criminal cases against him. The former movie producer is facing charges in New York on allegations of sexual violence against two women. His trial starts in January.
More than 70 women have accused him of wrongdoing since an explosive New York Times investigation two years ago that inspired the #MeToo movement. Weinstein denies all of the allegations.
Weinstein’s attorney, Donna Rotunno, is a former prosecutor who has built her reputation on defending men accused of sexual assault and rape. She has handled about 40 cases defending men accused of sexual misconduct but the trial of Harvey Weinstein is her most high profile case to date. Rotunno’s comments on #MeToo have raised eyebrows.
On #MeToo: “It puts you in a position where you’re stripped of your rights”
GAYLE KING: I’ve heard you say that you’re not really a — is it ‘believer’ or ‘supporter’ of the #MeToo movement?
DONNA ROTUNNO: Yeah, it’s more of a supporter. I think in many ways, there are good things about MeToo — and I’ve said this — but what bothers me about MeToo … it allows the court of public opinion to take over the narrative. And when you can’t come out and then either correct or challenge that narrative, it puts you in a position where you’re stripped of your rights.
On Weinstein defense strategy: We have “evidence that I think will exonerate him”
KING: What is your strategy in defending him?
ROTUNNO: Well, the strategy in defending him, of course, is just evaluating the case for what it is, and determining whether or not these allegations are things that we can refute. And in the criminal case, there are two charged victims and in both cases I feel strongly about the fact that we have evidence that is favorable to us and evidence that I think will exonerate him.
KING: We know we’re talking about two women. But as you know, Donna, the story is so much bigger than that.
ROTUNNO: It is.
KING: And I know you’re not naive to that, because we’ve got really more than 70 women, including names that we all know — Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd, Lupita Nyong’o — who have all said that Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed them. I know you’re saying these aren’t criminal cases, but these are certainly very serious allegations. How do you respond to that? And does that matter to you?
ROTUNNO: Well, sure, I think it matters. It might matter to me in my analysis of the whole — in the whole circumstance. But if I look at the criminal case, frankly, those allegations don’t matter in the context of the criminal case.
KING: But how does Harvey explain those allegations?
ROTUNNO: Well, I don’t think it’s about explaining them. I think it’s, you know, anytime we talk about men and women in sexual circumstances, I think we have to look at the fact that there’s always an area of gray so there’s these blurred lines and then sometimes one side walks away from an event feeling different than the other, and how do we reconcile with that.
KING: It’s not uncommon for a woman who has been through a very difficult, traumatic experience with a man to still be engaged with that man.
ROTUNNO: And that’s a choice. And if a woman makes that choice, she makes that choice. But then I think years later to come forward and then say– and who knows years later if your memory is exactly the way something happened at the time that you’re claiming that it did … But I get frustrated when I listen to these types of situations, and I hear women say, ‘Well, I didn’t have a choice.’ Well, no, you had a choice and you made a choice.
“There’s a difference between sins and crimes”
In addition to Weinstein’s two accusers, at least three other women are expected to testify as so-called “prior bad act” witnesses. Their testimony will be used by prosecutors to demonstrate a pattern of behavior.
KING: We’re focusing on your two criminal cases, but you do seem to minimize all of the other charges and allegations about Harvey Weinstein.
ROTUNNO: It’s not minimizing it. But for my purposes in this case, it’s not where I have to put my time and attention. It’s really about making sure those issues don’t cloud our ability to pick a fair jury.
KING: Well, for instance, in the Bill Cosby case, it was involving one woman, but other women who were charged who had made allegations were allowed to testify.
KING: And that seemed to have made a decision in the verdict for the jury, certainly in the second case. Are you concerned about that?
ROTUNNO: Sure. I think there’s always a concern about those things. I think the notion of where there’s smoke, there’s fire is always something that we have to worry about.
KING: This is more than fire, though, Donna. This is an inferno when it comes to Harvey Weinstein.
ROTUNNO: Well, I think. I think that when you look at the criminal case, I don’t think that that’s the case. I’m not here to say that he was not guilty of committing sins. I’m not here to say that at all. But there’s a difference between sins and crimes and I don’t think he’s a rapist. I don’t believe he’s a rapist.
“He never gets to be Harvey Weinstein ever again”
KING: Do you ever worry that you’re making it harder for women who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, raped to come forward?
ROTUNNO: No. I would hope that I’m making it easier for them.
KING: How so?
ROTUNNO: I would hope that doing what I’m doing makes them realize they have choices, and if they really are in a position that they feel uncomfortable, then the first thing they should do is report it. They should go to the police and I think that that sort of weeding out the cases that don’t rise to the level of real assaults should help real victims. So no, I think I’m helping them, actually.
KING: Doesn’t a man have to take responsibility for his actions–
ROTUNNO: No question.
ROTUNNO: No question.
KING: And the choices that he makes?
ROTUNNO: No question. And I think that no matter what happens to Harvey Weinstein, he will pay the biggest price there is. Even if he wins, Gayle, his whole life has been ruined, toppled, damaged. And whether it’s by his own doing or others, that’s the fact. And the fact is that no matter what we do — and we can walk out of that courtroom with a not guilty and walk him out onto those courtroom steps — and he never gets to be Harvey Weinstein ever again.
Weinstein denies the accusations and faces a sentence of up to life in prison if convicted. Rotunno says Weinstein has been very involved in the preparation of his case and they’ve not yet decided whether he’ll testify though Gloria Allred, who represents accuser Mimi Haleyi, is imploring him to do so.
In a statement to CBS News, Allred writes. “I challenge Harvey Weinstein to take the witness stand and deny under oath the testimony of prosecution witnesses against him.”