Weinstein on 'indefinite leave' during sexual harassment inquiry

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 8: Harvey Weinstein attends the 'Fruitvale Station' screening at the Museum of Modern Art on July 8, 2013 in New York City. � Corredor99 / MediaPunch Inc./IPX

AP Film Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is on indefinite leave from the company he co-founded while an internal investigation into numerous sexual harassment allegations against him is completed, The Weinstein Co.'s board of directors announced Friday.

"We strongly endorse Harvey Weinstein's already announced decision to take an indefinite leave of absence from the Company, commencing today," the board said in a statement. "As Harvey has said, it is important for him to get the professional help for the problems he has acknowledged. Next steps will depend on Harvey's therapeutic process, the outcome of the board's independent investigation and Harvey's own personal decisions." 

The announcement came a day after The New York Times reported that the co-chairman of the Weinstein Co. has over the years reached at least eight legal settlements with women over alleged harassment.

Attorney John Kiernan of the firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP was named the head of the investigation. The Weinstein Co. board did not give a time frame for when the investigation would be completed.

"We believe it is important to learn the full truth regarding the article's very serious accusations, in the interests of the Company, its shareholders and its employees," the company said. The statement was signed by four board members: co-chairman Bob Weinstein, who is Harvey Weinstein's brother, Tarak Ben Ammar, Lance Maerov and Richard Koenigsberg.

The statement was not signed by several businessmen who were part of The Weinstein Co. board before the story broke. They did not return messages seeking comment Friday.

Board member Dirk Ziff, a billionaire investor, resigned Thursday.

Representatives did not immediately respond to questions about Weinstein's status with the film company. A person familiar with the board's deliberations but unauthorized to speak publicly told The Associated Press earlier Friday that Weinstein would be suspended from the company. Friday's statement only said it "strongly endorsed" Weinstein's decision to take the indefinite leave of absence.

Weinstein's attorneys also did not respond to emails seeking comment Friday.

Weinstein has had a powerful perch in Hollywood for three decades, producing films like "Pulp Fiction" and "Shakespeare in Love," for which he won an Oscar. But his stature has diminished in recent years and his company has suffered from a string of executive exits, layoffs mounting lawsuits and delayed releases.

The New York Times expose chronicled allegations against Weinstein from actress Ashley Judd and former employees at both the Weinstein Co. and Weinstein's former company, Miramax, over the course of several decades. The report made an enormous impact felt throughout the movie industry and elsewhere.

"This abuse of power must be called out, however powerful the abuser, and we must publicly stand with those brave enough to come forward," wrote actress America Ferrera on Twitter. Many others, including Lena Dunham and Brie Larson also added their voices to the uproar.

The board of directors has pressured Weinstein to step down from the company he helped create, said a person familiar with the board's deliberations who was not authorized to speak publicly. Weinstein has resisted, hoping to weather the storm. Discussions between Weinstein and the board have been heated and contentious, the person said.

Leadership of The Weinstein Co. will be assumed by Bob Weinstein and David Glasser, the company's chief operating officer.

Weinstein on Thursday issued a lengthy statement that acknowledged causing "a lot of pain." He also asked for "a second chance." But Weinstein and his lawyers, including Charles J. Harder, have criticized the New York Times' report in statements and interviews, though neither has referenced anything specific. 

"We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting," said a New York Times spokesperson in a statement. "Mr. Weinstein was aware and able to respond to specific allegations in our story before publication. In fact, we published his response in full."

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Weinstein attorney Lisa Bloom both defended Weinstein and acknowledged he'd been "stupid." She saluted the women who have come forward to allege wrongdoing but said many allegations were overblown and consisted of Weinstein telling a woman she "looked cute without my glasses."

Congressional Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, on Friday began giving charities thousands of dollars in donations they had received from the disgraced Hollywood titan.

Weinstein and his family have given more than $1.4 million in political contributions since the 1992 election cycle, nearly all of it to Democratic lawmakers, candidates and their allies, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The biggest beneficiary of funds from Weinstein and his family was the Democratic National Committee, which received about $800,000 in several of its accounts, according to the center. Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the party plans to give more than $30,000 to Emily's List, Emerge America and Higher Heights.

Rutgers University says it will not return a $100,000 donation from movie mogul Harvey Weinstein for a position named after women's rights advocate Gloria Steinem.

The university said Friday that Weinstein's donation was one of more than 425 that has been used to Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at the school.