Sen. Linda Reynolds asked attorney Bruce Lerman for transcripts of Brittany Higgins’ testimony and told him to review certain text messages while her partner sat in the back of the courtroom watching the former staffer give tearful testimony, jurors in a packed courtroom were told.
The senator said in court that she did not receive any of the material because her lawyer told her it was “inappropriate”.
Former Liberal staffer Mr Lerman, 27, pleaded not guilty to having sex with Ms Higgins without her consent and being reckless with her consent in the early hours of March 23, 2019, on the office couch of their boss, Senator Linda Reynolds .
The court was told that Mr Lerman was fired by Senator Reynolds’ office days after the alleged rape because he had breached security.
Senator Reynolds appeared in the ACT Supreme Court on Monday where she was asked about the moment Ms Higgins first disclosed the alleged rape, which a staff member claimed took place in the office.
Senator Reynolds told the court that in the first week of meetings after the alleged assault, she only realized there had been a “breach of security” and Ms Higgins had not disclosed information about the alleged sexual assault.
Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC suggested Ms Reynolds knew there was a “sexual element” to the incident.
“I don’t accept that,” Ms Reynolds replied.
Mr Drumgold then began pressing the WA senator about why she texted Mr Lerman’s lawyer, Steve Whybrow, when Ms Higgins was giving evidence under cross-examination.
“Have you tried to get Ms Higgins’ evidence in this court?” asked Mr. Drumgold.
Senator Reynolds said no – then asked for clarification.
The prosecutor told Ms Reynolds that on October 6, when Ms Higgins began her cross-examination, she asked Mr Whybrow to send “daily transcripts” to her lawyer.
The senator agreed that she requested the transcripts at the time.
“Your attorney wasn’t interested in those transcripts, you were interested in those transcripts,” Mr. Drumgold said.
He told the court that a minute after he asked Mr Whybrow for the transcripts, Senator Reynolds texted him again. “Also, if you have text messages between Brittany and Nikki, they could be revealing,” Senator Reynolds agreed that she was transcribing.
Senator Reynolds told the court she did not personally see the conversations between Ms Higgins and another staff member, Nicole Hammer.
“You warned the attorney two hours after you cross-examined Brittany Higgins … you injected yourself trying to help him cross-examine?” suggested Mr. Drumgold.
Senator Reynolds said she had never gone through such a process, saying it “seemed appropriate”.
The senator denies that she was “politically involved” in the outcome of the trial.
Mr Drumgold also asked the senator why her partner, who lives in Perth, sat at the back of the court during Ms Higgins’ evidence.
Senator Reynolds told the court she had not spoken to her husband about the evidence.
“My lawyer has made it very clear that he is not discussing this with me,” Senator Reynolds told the court.
Michaelia Cash and her top staff denied knowing about Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape allegations against Mr. Lerman long before they became public and agreed that trying to cover them up would be “political suicide.”
Ms Higgins told the court she disclosed the alleged rape during a meeting with her chief of staff later that day and then Senator Reynolds later in the week.
By mid-2019, Ms Higgins had started working for then minister Cash as a media adviser, the court was told.
Senator Cash called the ACT Supreme Court on Monday, where she was asked about the moment she became aware of the alleged rape.
Senator Cash told the court she became aware of the alleged sexual assault in early February 2021, days after Ms Higgins resigned from her post.
Prosecutor Shane Drumgold pressed Senator Cash, suggesting she had “detailed conversations” about Ms Higgins’ allegations much earlier – as far back as October 2019.
“You knew, absolutely knew, in October 2019 that Brittany Higgins came forward with allegations of sexual assault by Bruce Lerman on Senator Reynolds’ couch in the early hours of March 23, 2019,” Mr. Drumgold told Senator Cash.
“I can’t accept it. I don’t accept that,” the senator replied.
Mr Drumgold suggested to the senator that it would be “politically embarrassing” if the allegation was made public.
“I’m telling you that you deny it because it would be politically embarrassing for you,” the prosecutor said.
“Absolutely not … I don’t know how that could be politically embarrassing,” Ms Cash told the court, questioning a number of questions.
Asked if she understood what “plausible deniability” was, the former attorney general said: “I’m not quite sure what you mean, you have to put it in context.”
She later agreed with Mr Lehramn’s lawyer, Steve Whybrow, who suggested it would be “political suicide” for her to cover up the alleged assault.
“Hence my confusion with the preliminary questioning,” replied Senator Cash.
Ms Higgins previously told the court she had several in-depth conversations with the then minister about the incident.
But Senator Cash said she understood the only conversation she had with Ms Higgins was about the security breach, not the alleged rape.
“I first heard the word rape in a question by journalist Samantha Maiden on February 12, 2021.”
Senator Cash’s chief of staff Daniel Tree was the next witness called in the ACT Supreme Court on Monday.
He told the court that Senator Reynolds called him directly and said she was sending one of her staff to speak to Ms Higgins after the media enquiry.
“(Senator Reynolds) didn’t go into details, I didn’t remember much. She said the incident was not Brittany’s fault,” Mr Three told the court.
Mr Tree was present at the time of the meeting between the Reynolds employee and Ms Higgins, but the only details he could learn were that it involved “some sort of security issue”.
Mr Tree told the court Ms Higgins confirmed the other staff member was Lerman and he took her to Senator Cash’s office to alert the senator.
The chief of staff told the court that he and Ms Cash had offered Ms Higgins their support, but the details, again, did not include any allegations of sexual assault.
Mr. Drumgold suggested that Mr. Try knew that Ms. Higgins had come forward with sexual assault at the time.
“Minister Reynolds has given you all the details about the events of March 23, 2019 in her office,” Mr Drumgold said.
“Not true,” replied Mr. Tree.
“Your role was to protect Senator Cash from political fallout,” Mr. Drumgold continued.
“That’s not true,” said Mr. Tree.
Mr Tree said in October 2019 his only concern was Ms Higgins’ welfare and not the political fallout.
Coalition colleague Senator Reynolds is expected to appear in court this week.
The trial was originally expected to last four to six weeks.
But Mr Drumgold told the court last week he expected to close the Crown’s case on Tuesday.
This came after the witness list was reduced from more than 50 to 32.
On Friday, Mr. Lerman’s lawyer, Stephen Whybrow, pressed Ms. Higgins for inconsistencies in her account of that night during an emotionally charged cross-examination.
After singling out her alleged rapist for the first time in court, Ms Higgins pointed the finger at him and told him “nothing was right after what you did to me”.
Earlier that week, jurors heard Mr Lerman’s account for the first time when his police interview was played to them.
In it, he told police the incident “just didn’t happen.”