Harvey Weinstein was associated with the Clintons for years, socially and as a generous donor to both of their political campaigns. And according to prosecutors in Weinstein’s criminal trial, he bragged about his friendship with the former president to women he allegedly sexually assaulted, in an effort to intimidate them.
During opening statements on Wednesday (local time), Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast included a photo of Weinstein with Bill Clinton to help showcase his power and high-profile relationships that spanned beyond Hollywood.
The Clinton reference did not sit well with Weinstein’s legal team, prompting his lawyer Arthur Aidala to ask to start the trial all over again with a new jury.
Mr Aidala said the inclusion of Weinstein’s photo with Mr Clinton was “completely inappropriate” and only utilised to “poison the jury”.
“To show President Bill Clinton in a sex crimes case to be put up on the screen… Clinton has nothing to do with this case. It’s 100 per cent irrelevant,” Mr Aidala said in the courtroom.
“Nobody mentioned that former President Obama’s daughter interned for Mr Weinstein. President Obama wasn’t brought up.”
The lawyer also noted that Weinstein’s relationship with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was not referenced.
“It was only Mr Clinton’s name that was brought up to influence this jury,” he said in an exasperated tone.
“Why highlight the Clintons?”
Weinstein’s attorney took particular issue with the day Clinton’s photograph was shown to the jury: during President Trump’s impeachment trial.
He made the case that the reference was a way to connect it to Clinton’s own sexual indiscretions and even his impeachment, at a time when the Senate is in the midst of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
“In any day in the the history of the world to show President Clinton in a sex-crimes case the day of opening statements – in only the third impeachment in history,” Mr Aidala said.
“The last impeachment trial had to do with that particular president,” he added, noting that Mr Clinton’s impeachment “wasn’t over a crime of sexual assault, it was a crime of lying under oath, but it still encompasses that whole time in history.”
“This jury cannot read about this case, but they can read about the impeachment,” he added.
“We move that this jury is tainted and we need to start again,” Aidala said, seeking a mistrial. The judge immediately denied the request.
Lead prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi from the DA’s office, said the photo of Mr Clinton was “completely benign”.
“We have a woman who will be testifying who, among the many things that Mr. Weinstein did, was talk about his relationship with the Clintons, even taking personal phone calls from the Clintons while she was there,” Ms Illuzzi said.
“Part of that was the intimidation factor and part of that intimidation factor was that the defendant had a close relationship with President Clinton and bragged about it to her.”
Referring to a key witness in the case, Jessica Mann, who is accusing Weinstein of rape and sexual assault on multiple occasions, she said, “a girl from a dairy farm in Seattle would be intimidated when he’s on the phone with Bill Clinton every other day.”