Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker and the wife of Gavin Newsom, the California governor, endured tough questioning as she testified that she was sexually assaulted by the former producer Harvey Weinstein.
LOS ANGELES — Jennifer Siebel Newsom already had her own career as an actor and a documentary maker when Gavin Newsom was elected governor of California in 2018. She was well known enough to help her husband draw attention and crowds, and was at his side setting strategy as the future first couple campaigned, often with their children, on a bus across the state.
And once Mr. Newsom took office, Ms. Siebel Newsom, 48, sought to recast the role of being the governor’s wife in California: Out went the title “first lady.” She was the “first partner.” Her interest in gender equality and feminism influenced Mr. Newsom’s policies from the earliest days of his governorship, as they had influenced the documentary-producing foundation she created in 2011, the Representation Project. She split her time between an office up the hall from her husband’s and her office at the foundation.
But for the past two searing days, Ms. Siebel Newsom has endured a different kind of attention, as a key witness in the sexual abuse trial of Harvey Weinstein here in Los Angeles. A packed courtroom watched as she broke down in tears — struggling to catch her breath — as she testified on Monday that Mr. Weinstein dragged her to a bed at a Beverly Hills hotel in 2005 where he grabbed at her breasts, forcibly removed her underwear and then penetrated her with his fingers and penis. At the time, she was a young actress trying to break into the business.
She testified knowing that her detailed account against Mr. Weinstein — who is facing seven charges in Los Angeles, including two counts of rape and five counts of sexual assault — could invite a brutal cross-examination from his defense lawyer, Mark Werksman, who had referred to her in open court as “a bimbo” in his opening statement last month. And that is what happened on Tuesday as Mr. Werksman pelted Ms. Siebel Newsom with rapid-fire questions on the stand.
In tense confrontations, he suggested that she had invited Mr. Weinstein’s sexual advances to promote her own career. “You thought that you could advance professionally by having a relationship with Mr. Weinstein,” Mr. Werksman said.
Later, Mr. Werksman questioned her about the account she gave to the authorities in 2020. At one point, when she was slow to respond, the defense lawyer said, “Are you too tired to testify?”
Ms. Siebel Newsom teared up, and Mr. Werksman said, “Are you able to answer my questions?”
“What you’re doing today is exactly what he did to me,” she said.
He also accused her of shifting testimony since she appeared before a grand jury in 2020.
“As you pulled memories out of the box, you changed them,” Mr. Werksman said.
“Sir, he assaulted me,” she responded.
Her testimony occurred a week after Mr. Newsom was re-elected by a resounding margin to a second term, cementing his standing as a leading figure in national Democratic politics and stirring speculation about a possible run for the White House. This week, Mr. Newsom waited down the hall as his wife testified; an aide said he would have no comment on what transpired on Tuesday.
Whatever the outcome of the trial, Ms. Siebel Newsom’s decision to go public with her experience has helped to define someone who was already one of the best-known governor’s spouses in the country. “Siebel Newsom could have dodged this, refused to enter that courthouse,” a columnist for The Los Angeles Times wrote after observing her testimony, adding that instead she chose “not only to face Weinstein but to face us all.”
Ms. Siebel Newsom is one of four main witnesses testifying against Mr. Weinstein. He is already serving a 23-year prison sentence in New York, which is under appeal.
Ms. Siebel Newsom and Mr. Newsom have been pioneers of sorts, trying to navigate the dynamics of being a political couple at a time when both spouses have their own careers and interests.
Shortly after Mr. Newsom was elected, they decided against moving into the 145-year-old governor’s mansion in Sacramento that was so identified with his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown. (Mr. Brown lived there as a governor and as the son of a governor.) The new first couple decided that the Victorian mansion, with its steep centerpiece stairway and its lack of privacy, was not suitable for a family with four children, and they instead bought a house in Fair Oaks, outside of Sacramento.
The two met on a blind date in 2006 when Mr. Newsom was the mayor of San Francisco. She was the daughter of a wealthy family in Marin County, who received a business degree from Stanford University and worked for nonprofits in Africa and Latin America before turning to a career in Hollywood, during which she met Mr. Weinstein.
After dating and getting married, they would maintain 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 because of term limits. Ms. Siebel Newsom had a few bit parts on television and in movies, including playing a small role on “Mad Men,” before breaking into documentaries, first drawing attention with “Miss Representation,” a documentary she made in 2011.
As became clear in the trial, Ms. Siebel Newsom has helped Mr. Newsom’s political career, soliciting a campaign contribution from Mr. Weinstein and seeking advice from the producer on how her boyfriend at the time, running for re-election as San Francisco mayor, should deal with revelations that he had a 2005 affair with his campaign’s manager’s wife. Both of those events took place after Ms. Siebel Newsom’s encounter with Mr. Weinstein and have been discussed in court the past two days.
Ms. Siebel Newsom’s foundation has also benefited from contributions from companies and figures that have done business with Mr. Newsom’s government, an arrangement that has drawn criticism from government watchdogs.
Through the session on Tuesday, the exchanges between Ms. Siebel Newsom and Mr. Weinstein’s lawyer riveted the courtroom. Mr. Werksman spent the afternoon digging through emails that she sent Mr. Weinstein in the months and years after she said she was assaulted, including invitations to meet with her and Mr. Newsom.
The defense lawyer repeatedly asked how she could still be cordial with someone who she said raped her; Ms. Siebel Newsom said that she did not remember many of the messages and that she saw them as “just business.”
At one point, she testified that when she first told the police about the assault in 2020, she didn’t anticipate having to testify in a courtroom, because she believed her account would fall outside of the statute of limitations.
“I offered to talk to detectives initially to support other women, not to be up here on the witness stand,” she said. “I honestly was just telling my truth, and I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.”
Ms. Siebel Newsom was dismissed late Tuesday after spending hours on the stand, and it was Marlene Martinez, the prosecutor, who brought the day to an emotional crescendo by asking the witness, in one question after another, whether she consented to different sexual acts with Mr. Weinstein. “No!” Ms. Siebel Newsom shouted 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 as he noted that Ms. Siebel Newsom is the wife of the California governor. Lisa B. Lench, the Los Angeles County Superior Court judge presiding over the case, directed lawyers last month to to remain focused on the issue in the trial and avoid discussion of Mr. Newsom’s politics.
But at times, Mr. Werksman appeared unable to resist bringing up the high-profile nature of the witness he was confronting on the stand.
“You’re the wife of the governor of California at the time and you’re about to meet with the police and a deputy D.A., and you didn’t think that the consequence of what you said was that you would be a victim in an indictment?” the defense lawyer said.