Bombshell texts from Taylor Auerbach reveal Bruce Lehrmann’s strategist’s eye-watering demand

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Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach claims in text messages sent to his boss during Bruce Lehrmann’s criminal rape trial that the former Liberal staffer’s public relations guru John Macgowan wanted to strike a $200,000 TV deal with Channel 7 while the jury was still out.

Documents published by the Federal Court website on Friday night detail the alleged wheeling and dealing that was taking place near the ACT Supreme Court before the trial was aborted due to juror misconduct.

Mr Lehrmann pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence. He is now facing unrelated rape charges in Queensland.

The plan, according to the texts, was for Channel 7 to deposit the money in Mr Macgowan’s “trust account” to make it look like Mr Lehrmann wasn’t getting paid. Ultimately, this didn’t happen and Channel 7 instead paid his rent for a year.

“Hi mate. I have finished my meeting with Bruce Lehrmann’s advisor John Macgowan, who is looking after his public strategy,’’ the text said.

“Bruce wants to do one big exclusive sit down interview at the end of this, assuming he is found not guilty and then move on. He is also going to do interviews with Piers Morgan and Tucker Carlson.

“But they will be after the Australian exclusive. John says we are the only ones who have offered what they want so far in terms of format.

“So we are in front and that if we can come to a mutually agreeable deal, the story is ours.

“They have six hours of audio recordings with Brittany Higgins and Lisa Wilkinson, in which Brittany is apparently coached and says ‘don’t worry, I can turn on the waterworks on and off like a tap’.

“They also have text messages where Brittany is frustrated about how the AFP is running the case and says if they don’t start toeing the line or go on the project and start crying.

“They also have documents from the AFP saying the charges should not be prosecuted as there is not enough evidence and that legal proceedings should be deleterious to Brittany Higgins. Despite this, the ACT DPP pursued the charges.”

The Federal Court has heard allegations this week that Mr Lehrmann leaked the documents to the Spotlight program.

Mr Lehrmann denies this and Spotlight says it would never reveal a source.

Bruce Lehrmann planned ‘massive defamation cases’

During the lengthy message to his then boss, Steve Jackson, Auerbach also reveals that Mr Lehrmann was planning a big defamation hit.

“Bruce is planning massive defamation cases against Ten and other outlets in every state of Australia and (is) also eyeing malicious prosecution,’’ Auerbach said after his meeting with Macgowan.

“He has received a lot of pro bono legal support but has huge debts. John Macgowan is helping to fund things as well and has set up a trust.

“There is thought that Bruce should not receive money for the story directly, but the money can be paid into John Macgowan’s trust which is used to pay legal fees etc.”

Mr Lehrmann filed defamation claims against Network Ten, Lisa Wilkinson, news.com.au and the ABC in February 2023.

The case against news.com.au was discontinued and the ABC settled with Mr Lehrmann prior to the trial in December.

Nine’s 60 Minutes in the running

In the new texts, Auerbach said that Nine was also in the running for the exclusive.

“Due to the nature of needing money, we are on a shortlist of two with nine. We are ahead of Nine because the Bruce camp likes us and we are offering what they want in terms of style and format.

“They want to do a deal that gives us domestic exclusivity over everything until we go to air. Then they do Tucker and Piers Morgan. John Macgowan’s words, ‘how much are you able to offer?’”

But Auerbach told his bosses that they wanted $200,000 because Mr Macgowan was aware that Barnaby Joyce’s wife Vikki Campion got $150,000 for a tell-all interview and they wanted more for “inflation.”

“I said I needed to talk to you first to get sign off on anything. He said, ‘Okay, fair enough. I know that Vikki Campion (he’s very good friends with Vikki). So it needs to be up around there’,’’ the text says.

“And adjusted for inflation. So we’d be looking at $200,000. I said I would go away and talk. It was a meeting entered into by both of us in good faith and all strictly off the record.

“And I gave him my word. This will remain confidential with me and my bosses. He also indicated that their preference would be to shoot the story over the course of a weekend somewhere quiet, near a golf course (Bruce is big on golf after a short break following the verdict).

“I’ve watched his police interview in court and he’s good talent. We would also get Bruce’s mum who is a character. I’m told his father passed away when he was 17 months old. Most other friends have abandoned him.

“We’d probably get his lawyers around to talk if you would like to discuss. Cheers Taylor.”

Channel 7 has denied paying for Mr Lehrmann’s sex workers and drugs. Mr Lehrmann has also denied Channel 7 paid for those services.

Auerbach’s texts were sent on October 21, 2022. At the time, the jury had retired to consider its verdict on October 19.

The trial collapsed on October 27, 2022, after a juror was found to have brought a research paper on sexual assaults into the jury room despite persistent warnings from the judge not to do “their own research” or bring in other material to the jury room.

$750 invoice revealed

Mr Lehrmann’s barrister, Matthew Richardson SC, has questioned Auerbach’s claim that Channel 7 reimbursed Mr Lehrmann $750 which he allegedly spent on cocaine and sex workers.

The invoice was uploaded to the Federal Court website on Friday night.

Mr Richardson told the court it was a “stretch” to suggest the “pre-production” expenses after an alleged boozy weekend with prostitutes and cocaine were for drugs.

“That was two nights with him and Mr Auerbach with the drugs and the prostitutes, even the least worldly person in this room, which regrettably is probably me, that that is a stretch,” he said.

During his closing submission, Mr Richardson claimed the court was no more informed than they were before the case was reopened.

Lisa Wilkinson’s barrister Barry Dean told the court that Mr Lehrmann had been “lying to this court” and “lying” to his solicitors, who then, “unaware” of this, wrote letters that contained “false information”.

“That conduct is disreputable in itself,” he said.

Mr Dean told Justice Lee that he believes Mr Lehrmann’s dishonesty warrants the “striking out of this claim”.

Who is Bruce Lehrmann’s media strategist John Macgowan?

Former Liberal staffer John Macgowan was a constant presence at the criminal trial.

Most days, he walked into court with Mr Lehrmann and his barrister Steve Whybrow SC.

His name has previously come up at the defamation trial as the man Mr Lehrmann allegedly turned to for advice.

According to text messages tendered, he contacted Mr Lehrmann on the day the story of Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape broke on February 15, 2021.

At 11.41am Mr Macgowan asked Mr Lehrmann: “You got any [gossip] on who the Canberra rape guy is, the yarn says ‘rising star’ so that rules out our mates but who else?”

Mr Lehrmann responded: “No idea mate in the slightest. I haven’t been approached.”

Mr Lehrmann again texted Mr Macgowan three times at 10.11pm, saying “Need bags” and “Let’s get it done” and “No one has work tomorrow.”

Shortly afterwards, he told Mr Macgowan that a friend was paying. “Lol so let’s get lit.”

Ten years ago, John Macgowan hit the headlines when he gave evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that an MP admitted to him that he received an envelope containing cash from property developer.