Taylor Auerbach’s texts reveal Spotlight’s Brittany Higgins mistake

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The Spotlight program falsely believed that Brittany Higgins had texted an ex-boyfriend a photograph of a couch in Linda Reynolds’ office, accompanied by some flirtatious banter, just weeks before her alleged rape.

They hoped it was going to deliver a big scoop, according to new texts uploaded by the Federal Court.

But the photo was not sent by Brittany Higgins, and was not the couch in question at all. Instead, it was sent by Ms Higgins’ colleague and ex-boyfriend during banter about Donald Trump’s media minder Hope Hicks.

News.com.au has confirmed the picture that was sent is a widely-shared internet meme that has nothing to do with Parliament House.

Text messages between former Spotlight producers Steve Jackson and Taylor Auerbach while the jury was still out in Bruce Lehrmann’s criminal rape trial reveal that Auerbach believed he was on track to seal the deal and secure an exclusive interview with Mr Lehrmann.

At 7:37pm on October 26, 2022, Auerbach texted his boss Jackson that John Macgowan, a former Liberal staffer who was Mr Lehrmann’s media strategist, had good news.

“Macgowan told Bruce after his meeting to go with us,’’ Auerbach said.

“Brilliant work mate,’’ Jackson replied.

Later that night, at 9:46pm, Auerbach messaged again: “So much mail,” he said. “Grace (Tame) hates Brittany.”

Close to midnight, at 11:42pm, Auerbach texted his boss again: “Brittany texted a photo of L Reynolds couch to (her ex) saying how bout we do it on here.”

“Why wasn’t that raised [in the criminal trial]?” Jackson replies.

Auerbach never replies.

The next day, on October 27, Auerbach returned to court only to discover that the trial had been aborted as a result of juror misconduct.

The texts from Ms Higgins that Auerbach was referring to are in a bundle of more than 2000 messages obtained by police during the investigation of Ms Higgins’ rape claim, They were sourced from a Cellebrite report of Ms Higgins’ phone, and a search of her ex-boyfriend’s phone.

Auerbach claims the texts were later obtained by Spotlight as they prepared the two-part Lehrmann interview.

Mr Lehrmann denies being the source of this or any other leak.

The photograph of the couch found in Ms Higgins’ text messages was tendered in the defamation trial by Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Steve Whybrow, who acted for him in both the criminal trial and the defamation case.

But the texts show that the photograph was not what the Spotlight program was led to believe.

Instead, in March 2019, just weeks before the alleged rape, Ms Higgins and her ex-boyfriend shared private banter and jokes about Hope Hicks, Donald Trump’s former media adviser and Melania Trump.

After Ms Higgins shared a sexual joke about Hope Hicks, the ex-boyfriend responded by sending a photo of a couch from a well-known internet meme.

“We’ll put this couch to shame,” the ex-boyfriend responded, posting an image from a viral meme about the casting couch in low-budget pornographic films.

The picture or the joke bore no relation to the couch in Linda Reynolds’ office that Ms Higgins would later allege she was raped on. Mr Lehrmann denied any sexual contact whatsoever and was never found guilty of any offence.

The couch texts were not mentioned at the criminal trial and never admitted in their entirety.

During the criminal trial, Mr Lehrmann’s legal team argued that Ms Higgins had deleted material from her phone.

The material, which is in the brief of evidence, was eventually sent to the DPP, the defence team and later the Sofronoff Inquiry and the defamation trial.

Wheeling and dealing over $200,000 TV deal

Earlier this week, Auerbach claimed in texts published by the Federal Court that Mr Macgowan wanted to strike a $200,000 TV deal with Channel 7 for an exclusive interview with Mr Lehrmann while the jury in his criminal trial 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.

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 adviser John Macgowan, who is looking after his public strategy,’’ the text released by the Federal Court 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.