Bruce Lehrmann trial: Producer Taylor Auerbach’s texts revealed

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Bruce Lehrmann intended to line up interviews with international conservative commentators Piers Morgan and Tucker Carlson, according to former Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach in a series of texts messages released by the Federal Court.

After a bruising five-week trial, a false start and another two days of evidence, Justice Michael Lee is preparing to finally hand down his judgment in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation battle against Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson.

Mr Lehrmann sued over Ms Wilkinson’s The Project in February 2021 in which Brittany Higgins made rape allegations, however it was a program from a rival network which took centre stage in the Federal Court this week.

Over the Easter long weekend, Network 10 applied to reopen its case to hear evidence from Mr Auerbach, who was instrumental in locking down Mr Lehrmann for a series of exclusive Spotlight interviews.

In an affidavit to the court, Mr Auerbach alleged that during the production of the story he was provided with documents from Mr Lehrmann’s ACT Supreme Court criminal trial, in contravention of legal principles, and that Seven paid for or reimbursed Mr Lehrmann for a raft of expenses, including accommodation, meals, drugs and prostitutes.

In court last year, Mr Lehrmann denied providing documents to Channel 7, saying: “No, I just gave an interview”.

TRUST

The Federal Court released a series of text messages between Mr Auerbach and his then-boss, Spotlight producer Steve Jackson, in which he discussed meeting Mr Lehrmann’s then-advisor John McGowan in Canberra in October 2022.

At the time, Mr Lehrmann was on trial in the ACT Supreme Court.

He pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting Ms Higgins, but the trial was aborted due to juror misconduct before the charges were subsequently dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions

“Hi mate,” Mr Auerbach said in the October 21 text to Mr Jackson.

“I have finished my meeting with Bruce Lehrmann’s advisor John McGowan who is looking after his public strategy.

“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.”

Mr Auerbach and the Spotlight team were eventually successful in wooing Mr Lehrmann, and the court has heard he was given a year’s worth of rent in return.

But at the time, Seven were in competition with rival Australian broadcasters.

And, Mr Auerbach told Mr Jackson at the time, Mr Lehrmann wanted to do international interviews with Morgan and Carlson.

“He is also going to do interviews with Piers Morgan and Tucker Carlson but they will be after the Australian exclusive,” Mr Auerbach said.

“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.”

In the texts, Mr Auerbach said that Mr Lehrmann’s team had documents, including a six-hour audio recording of Ms Higgins and Ms Wilkinson “in which Brittany is apparently coached and says ‘don’t worry, I can turn the waterworks on and off like a tap’.”

“They also have documents from the AFP saying the charges should not be prosecuted as there is not enough evidence and that legal proceedings would be deleterious to Brittany Higgins,” Mr Auerbach texted his then-boss.

“Despite this the ACT DPP pursued the charges. Bruce is planning massive defamation cases against Ten and other outlets in every state of Australia and also eyeing malicious prosecution.”

Mr Auerbach said any money paid by Spotlight would go into a trust fund, which would be used to pay Mr Lehrmann’s legal fees.

He said at the time Spotlight was on a shortlist of two suitors, along with Nine.

Mr Auerbach said he discussed monetary payment for Mr Lehrmann and a figure of $200,000.

“John MacGowan’s words: ‘how much are you able to offer?’ I said I needed to talk to you first to get sign off on anything,” Mr Auerbach said.

“He said: ‘ok fair enough. I know what Vikki Campion got (he’s very good friends with Vikki) so it would need to be up around there and adjusted for inflation. So we’d be looking at $200,000”. I said I would go away and talk.”

“HATE”

Mr Auerbach was injected into the saga in late March when news.com.au reported that two Thai masseuses were booked for Mr Lehrmann and for a Seven employee – allegations which Mr Lehrmann later described as untrue and a “bizarre story from a disgruntled ex-Network Seven producer”.

In the following days, Mr Auerbach threatened to sue Mr Lehrmann for defamation.

He then provided Ten’s solicitors with three affidavits, and Justice Lee allowed the network to reopen its case and hear his evidence.

Ten’s barrister Dr Matt Collins KC argued that Mr Auerbach’s evidence, if accepted by Justice Lee, demonstrated Mr Lehrmann’s “wilful dishonesty and a preparedness to commit a very serious contempt of court in order to attempt to advance his interests”.

However, Mr Lehrmann’s lawyers have accused him of being motivated by “hate” for his former boss, Mr Jackson, and resentment towards his former employer.

“I want to suggest to you, Mr Auerbach, that you are here today to do as much damage to your former employer and former colleagues as you possibly can” Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Matthew Richardson said.

“I strongly disagree,” Mr Auerbach said.

“And you’re prepared to lie in that endeavour?” Mr Richardson said.

“No sir,” Mr Auerbach replied.

Mr Auerbach, however, also admitted to hating former Seven producer Mr Jackson.

Asked if he particularly hated Mr Jackson, Mr Auerbach said: “Yes.”

Justice Lee noted that Mr Auerbach could be described as: “A man who desperately wanted to do as much damage to his previous employer as he could conceivably do.”

However, he noted: “That doesn’t mean he’s not a truth teller.”

“SUE ME”

The court was on Thursday played a social media video, from October last year, of Mr Auerbach snapping a set of golf clubs belonging to Mr Jackson.

The court heard that Mr Jackson left the clubs at Mr Auerbach’s house in 2022 before he posted the video of him destroying them.

The video was titled: “Merry Christmas, sue me”.

Mr Auerbach admitted he “hated” Mr Jackson, but denied he was displaying hatred in the video.

“During that video you displayed absolute hatred for Mr Jackson,” Mr Richardson asked.

“No,” Mr Auerbach said, explaining that it was a “parody” of a video which Spotlight executive producer Mark Llewellyn posted to the internet.

Asked if he blamed Mr Jackson for Seven not renewing his contract in August 2023, Mr Auerbach said: “In part”.

He also admitted to background journalists against Mr Jackson when it emerged he was in line for a senior role in the NSW Police media unit advising Commissioner Karen Webb.

THE DOCUMENTS

In a series of sworn affidavits tendered to the Federal Court, Mr Auerbach claimed that Mr Lehrmann supplied the network with several pieces of evidence from Mr Lehrmann’s ACT Supreme Court criminal trial.

Mr Lehrmann has previously denied providing documents to the program and the former political staffer testified during the defamation trial that he only gave the network an interview.

Mr Auerbach said Mr Lehrmann provided him with a copy of an AFP “Statement of Facts” relating to the trial.

He said he was also provided with a Cellebrite download of Ms Higgins’ phone containing texts between her and her ex-boyfriend Ben Dillaway.

Mr Auerbach said he was also provided with photographs of messages between Ms Higgins and Peter FitzSimons on a laptop, in which he said Spotlight executive producer Mark Llewellyn’s reflection could be seen.

Network 10’s lawyers argued that Mr Auerbach’s evidence, if believed, would undermine Mr Lehrmann’s credibility.

Dr Collins told the court that Mr Lehrmann breached the “Harman undertaking” which states that documents produced in a court proceeding cannot be used for another purpose.

“We submit that on the balance of probabilities, your honour your ought to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the photograph (of the laptop) was taken by Mr Llewellyn of documents from Mr Lehrmann’s computer,” Dr Collins said.

“Because it was an AFP e-brief in electronic form, at a house rented by Seven for Mr Lehrmann in Randwick. Being documents that were subject to a Harman undertaking and documents that Mr Lehrmann had no business showing to Mr Llewellyn or anyone else, other than his lawyers in the ACT Supreme Court proceeding.”

Justice Lee has said he intended to announce early next week when he would hand down his judgment in the trial.