First partner from California becomes key witness in Weinstein’s trial in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — Jennifer Siebel Newsom already had her own career as an actress and documentary filmmaker when Gavin Newsom was elected governor of California in 2018. She was well known enough to help her husband draw attention and crowds, and helped him strategize when the future first couple fought, often with their children, on a cross-state bus.

And when Mr. Newsom took office, Ms. Siebel Newsom, 48, attempted to recast the role of wife of the governor in California: the title of “First Lady” was lost. She was the “first partner”. Her interest in gender equality and feminism influenced Mr Newsom’s politics from the earliest days of his tenure as governor, having influenced the documentary film production foundation she established in 2011, the Representation Project. She divided her time between an office down the hall next to her husband’s and her office at the foundation.

But in the past two searing days, Ms. Siebel Newsom has received a different kind of attention as key witness in Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse trial here in Los Angeles. A packed courtroom watched as she broke down in tears — struggling to catch her breath — as she testified Monday that Mr. Weinstein dragged her to a bed at a Beverly Hills hotel in 2005, where he grabbed her breasts, forcibly holding her took off her underwear and then she penetrated with his fingers and penis. At the time, she was a young actress trying to break into the business.

She testified that she knew her detailed report against Mr. Weinstein – who is facing seven counts in Los Angeles, including two counts of rape and five counts of sexual assault – could lead to brutal cross-examination by his defense attorney, Mark Werksman, who had done so, referred to her as “Bimbo” in his opening remarks in open court last month. And that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday, when Mr. Werksman pelted Ms. Siebel Newsom with rapid-fire questions on the stand.

In tense arguments, he suggested that she had invited Mr. Weinstein’s sexual advances to further her own career. “You thought you could advance professionally by being in a relationship with Mr. Weinstein,” said Mr. Werksman.

Mr. Werksman later questioned her about the statement she made to authorities in 2020. Once, when she was slow to answer, the defense attorney said, “Are you too tired to testify?”

Ms. Siebel Newsom burst into tears, and Mr. Werksman said, “Can you answer my questions?”

“What you’re doing today is exactly what he did to me,” she said.

He also accused her of postponing testimony since appearing before a grand jury in 2020.

“When you pulled memories out of the box, you changed them,” said Mr. Werksman.

“Sir, he attacked me,” she replied.

Her testimony came a week after Mr Newsom was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term, cementing his standing as a leader in national Democratic politics and stoking speculation about a possible White House candidacy. This week Mr. Newsom waited down the hall while his wife gave evidence; An aide said he would not comment on what happened on Tuesday.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, Ms. Siebel Newsom’s decision to make her experience public helped define someone who was already one of the most well-known governor’s spouses in the country. “Siebel Newsom could have evaded that, refused to enter this courthouse,” a Los Angeles Times columnist wrote after observing her testimony, adding that instead she chose “not just Weinstein, but to face us all”.

Ms. Siebel Newsom is one of four key witnesses testifying against Mr. Weinstein. He is already serving a 23-year sentence in New York that is pending appeal.

In a way, Ms. Siebel Newsom and Mr. Newsom were pioneers, trying to navigate the dynamic of being a political couple at a time when both spouses have their own careers and interests.

Shortly after Mr. Newsom’s election, they opted against moving into the 145-year-old governor’s mansion in Sacramento, which became so closely identified with his predecessor, Governor Jerry Brown. (Mr. Brown lived there as governor and as a governor’s son.) The new first couple decided that the Victorian mansion, with its steep central staircase and lack of privacy, was not suitable for a family with four children, and bought instead a house in Fair Oaks outside of Sacramento.

The two met on a blind date in 2006 when Mr. Newsom was mayor of San Francisco. She was the daughter of a wealthy Marin County family who received a business degree from Stanford University and worked for non-profit organizations in Africa and Latin America before pursuing a career in Hollywood, where she met Mr. Weinstein.

After dating and marrying, they would pursue their own careers, but their paths were parallel and often intertwined. Mr. Newsom served two terms as Mayor of San Francisco and became Lieutenant Governor under Mr. Brown, biding his time until Mr. Brown had to leave office due to term limits. Ms. Siebel Newsom had a few small roles in television and films, including a small role in Mad Men, before breaking into documentaries and first attracting attention with Miss Representation, a documentary she directed in 2011.

As was made clear at the trial, Ms. Siebel Newsom supported Mr. Newsom’s political career by soliciting Mr. Weinstein for campaign input and asking the producer for advice on how her then-boyfriend was running for re-election as mayor of San Francisco, should deal with revelations, that he had an affair with his campaign manager’s wife in 2005. Both events took place after Ms. Siebel Newsom’s encounter with Mr. Weinstein and have been discussed in court for the past two days.

Ms Siebel Newsom’s foundation has also benefited from contributions from companies and figures who have done business with Mr Newsom’s government, an arrangement that has been criticized by state watchdogs.

During Tuesday’s session, exchanges between Ms. Siebel Newsom and Mr. Weinstein’s attorney captivated the courtroom. Mr Werksman spent the afternoon going through emails she had sent Mr Weinstein in the months and years after she said she had been attacked, including invitations to meet with her and Mr Newsom.

The defense attorney repeatedly asked how she could still be kind to someone she said raped her; Ms. Siebel Newsom said she couldn’t remember many of the messages and considered them “just business”.

She once testified that when she first told police about the attack in 2020, she didn’t expect to have to testify in court because she believed her account would be past the statute of limitations.

“I offered to speak to detectives first to support other women, not to be up here on the stand,” she said. “I was honestly just speaking my truth, and I didn’t know what the outcome would be.”

Ms Siebel Newsom was released late Tuesday after spending hours on the witness stand, and it was Marlene Martinez, the prosecutor, who brought the day to an emotional crescendo by asking the witness question after question about whether they had different sexual relationships Actions agree with Mr. Weinstein. “No!” Ms. Siebel Newsom cried out each time, emotions building before she was released and left the room in tears.

While Mr. Newsom was not in the courtroom, Mr. Werksman mentioned him several times in stating that Ms. Siebel Newsom is the wife of the California governor. Lisa B. Lench, the Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who presided over the case, directed attorneys last month to focus on the issue at trial and avoid discussions about Mr Newsom’s policies.

But at times, Mr. Werksman couldn’t seem to resist addressing the high-profile nature of the witness he faced on the stand.

“You were the wife of the governor of California at the time and you were about to meet with the police and an assistant district attorney, and you didn’t think the consequence of what you said was becoming a victim with an indictment?” he said Defender.