Published 11:38 PM EST Nov 28, 2018
Shamed ex-CBS chief Leslie Moonves’ $120 million exit package, already up in the air, looked even less likely Wednesday after The New York Times posted a lengthy story describing how he allegedly forced oral sex on a young actress years ago and then worked with her down-and-out agent to get her roles to keep her quiet after the #MeToo movement exploded.
After reviewing a “trove” of text messages between Moonves and agent Marv Dauer, who was looking to get back on top in Hollywood, The Times found evidence that the duo worked together to bury the 23-year-old sexual assault allegation by actress Bobbie Phillips, Dauer’s client.
Instead, they ended up sinking Moonves, who was forced out by the CBS board in September. Now, it may also cost Moonves his $120 million exit package from the network, which would not have to pay him if it’s true he tried to pay off an accuser with job offers and then tried to hide it.
“If Bobbie talks, I’m finished,” Moonves said, according to Dauer.
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Did Dauer “blackmail” Moonves into helping his clients to keep quiet one particular client with a gross story to tell on Moonves? The Harvey Weinstein scandal had just broken in October 2017 and reporters were already in hot pursuit of rumors of similar allegations against Moonves, who was subsequently accused in The New Yorker by six women – not including Phillips – of sexual misconduct.
“I don’t know how I got in the middle of this,” Dauer told The Times. “All I know is that I’m a key witness with $120 million at stake. I can’t even imagine a sum of money like that.”
But Dauer denied that he had attempted to blackmail Moonves. “I wouldn’t even know how to blackmail someone,” he said. “Not in my wildest dreams. Yes, I did try to get my clients parts. That’s my job. That’s what managers do.”
In a statement to The Times, Moonves denied he assaulted Phillips, insisting that their 1995 encounter in his office, when she was 25, was consensual. That’s what he told lawyers for the CBS board who interviewed him about the multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him. (He did not explain why, if it was consensual, Phillips was so upset she fled his office in fear and horror, The Times said.)
Eventually, Moonves acknowledged to the board’s investigators that he had sought jobs for Phillips and had asked a casting director for help, because he was worried she might go public.
“I realize the circumstances were not great,” he said to the lawyers, The Times reported. He acknowledged that seeking a job for Phillips was “inappropriate.”
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His admission gave the CBS board and its lawyers serious qualms about his candor and judgment. “This is a deal-breaker,” said lawyer Nancy Kestenbaum, a partner at Covington & Burling.
Under Moonves’ contract, failing to cooperate fully with CBS’ investigators could constitute “cause,” in which case CBS doesn’t have to pay him anything. One fact that could be relevant, according to The Times, is that CBS lawyers recently discovered Moonves deleted many text messages with Dauer from his iPad. But Dauer still had them.
Phillips, who retired from acting in 2003 and moved to Toronto, told the Times she initially did not not want to rake up the past, that forgiveness had become a central part of her life since her son committed suicide in 2012.
She told Dauer, who had gotten back in touch with her after years, that she wanted to move on but also wanted to get back into acting. He offered to represent her again and said Moonves wanted to make amends, The Times reported.
But she was upset when Dauer told her that Moonves denied assaulting her in 1995. Then she watched Oprah Winfrey take the stage at the Golden Globes in January to acknowledge the generations of women who had endured sexual assault. “They’re the women whose names we’ll never know,” Winfrey said.
“My God, this is me,” Phillips thought, according to The Times.
Soon, she was experiencing mysterious pains and was diagnosed as possibly suffering from suppressed trauma. Meanwhile, Dauer and Moonves were texting about what roles to offer her to “keep her happy,” The Times reported.
Now Phillips has hired a lawyer to pursue claims and $15 million in damages against Moonves and CBS, asserting that he caused her emotional distress by dangling job possibilities to keep her silent and defamed her by insisting the encounter was consensual. Her lawyer, Eric George, told the The Times that Moonves “reopened these wounds, causing medical injuries and effectively ending her acting career.”
Negotiations between the two sides have since collapsed, and Phillips is now was weighing her options. And Dauer is no longer her agent.
Related: Illeana Douglas: Les Moonves called my sexual assault ‘a lot of fun’