The defense's first witness in the Harvey Weinstein rape trial took the stand late on Thursday to challenge actress Annabella Sciorra's account of being raped by the disgraced producer and stumbled memorably through a cross-examination when a series of texts he sent to Weinstein were read aloud in court to the witness' surprise.
Producer Paul Feldsher took the stand and testified that he was friends with both Weinstein and Sciorra, and said that during "an extremely long walk" in New York City in the early 1990s, "I remember Annabella saying to me that she'd done this crazy thing with Harvey."
Feldsher said under direct examination that there was no reason to believe the incident was forced or violent.
"There was no component of what she said that was shocking or alarming. I don't recall it being stressful. I think I would have been a horrible friend … I don't remember having any more conversation with her about it," he said.
Asked by a defense attorney what his understanding "of what this crazy thing was," Feldsher testified that "my understanding was that she fooled around with him."
But on cross-examination, a series of texts from Feldsher to Weinstein read aloud by prosecutor Joan Illuzzi undermined his credibility.
"Your appetites and ambitions for the things you wanted -- a script, a movie and, yes, a girl -- were, to put it mildly, voracious," Feldsher wrote to Weinstein in November, 2018 -- after dozens of sexual misconduct allegations in the fall of 2017 turned Weinstein into a national pariah.
Pressed repeatedly on what he meant by "and, yes, a girl," Feldsher eventually said that "I meant that it was my understanding for a very long time that Harvey had a sex addiction and that he dated a lot of women."
At another point, Feldsher acknowledged texting Weinstein that "Annabella is an a------" and, "I think the dogpile of women who are suddenly bravely recalling repressed memories is hideous."
At one point the exasperated witness blurted out, "Listen, I'm learning a lot now and I had no idea that my text messages would end up in a courtroom."
He also admitted texting Weinstein to say in reference to Sciorra, "Well the rape version got her an agent at CAA, so there's that," and, conversely, that "if a lot of these girls had been my daughter I would have wanted to beat the shit out of you."
Feldsher stumbled through some of his explanations to Illuzzi.
"Um, I think I was trying -- I mean, obviously, because of any -- the thought of my child, my daughter's 13, so the thought of anyone, anything in that context, I find it abhorrent at this point. And I guess I was trying to put into context -- look, I was trying to be a friend and to say, 'I know the extremes of your appetite,'" he said.
Illuzzi also asked Feldsher whether he had texted Weinstein that Sciorra recounted the incident to him the day after it happened.
"Is it true? Was it the day before you went on that long walk that Annabella said this happened with the defendant?" Illuzzi demanded.
"Under oath, that is not true," Feldsher replied.
Feldsher was asked to confirm that he told Weinstein he had talked about the incident to Sciorra again after the long walk, but was now testifying that the long walk was the only such discussion, he confirmed "that is correct."
"So that was not true, either?" Illuzzi wondered.
"I don't believe so," Feldsher replied. "I think I was condensing. I was I was -- no, that is not true."
Illuzzi asked Feldsher if it was true that "in the middle of telling Harvey Weinstein she's a liar and an a------," he texted Sciorra herself.
"I did," Feldsher replied.
He was asked what he meant when he texted Sciorra, "Bella, Meryl Poster [former president of television at The Weinstein Co.] asked me for your number I should have asked you before I gave it, sorry, sorry about a bunch of stuff. Bewildered, too, can't imagine what the kids are like at this point. Would love to see a pic. Would love healing and peace and a friend back ... Current events are way too much for text but obviously acknowledgment goes to that awfulness."
It was not immediately clear from the testimony exactly when Feldsher sent the texts to Sciorra, but he confirmed that the Weinstein texts were sent in Nov. 2018.
Feldsher denied the "awfulness" he was referring to was Sciorra's newly surfaced allegation of being raped by Weinstein.
"The awfulness I'm talking about was the fact that Annabella was a 58-year-old woman unemployed with twins she couldn't support and no insurance, et cetera."
Moments earlier, he had explained, "I was talking about the circumstances of her life that put her in position where I felt she was making untrue allegations."
Feldsher acknowledged he didn't mean some of the things he said.
"Is it correct to say that you were saying things that you thought Harvey Weinstein wanted to hear?" Illuzzi demanded.
"Um, yes," he replied.
"And that's what you're doing today, aren't you sir?" Illuzzi thundered, marching across the courtroom toward the witness stand. "Aren't you saying things in this court that Harvey Weinstein wants to hear?"
"Categorically, no!" he shot back.
Asked to explain his "dogpile" comment, he insisted, "I meant a plethora. I was not referring to the animal. I was just talking about the number."
At one point, Feldsher tried to explain that he wrote what he did to Weinstein out of pity.
"This was somebody I knew who was in trouble," Feldsher said. "I was talking to him partially because nobody else was. I felt badly that he was completely abandoned. I felt badly that it was difficult for him to be the recipient of due process."
Asked when he last met with defense attorneys, Feldsher said he met with them two days ago. He also acknowledged meeting with the defense team prior to being subpoenaed. Feldsher completed his testimony as court ended for the day.