This series is about the appeal of the Raniere conviction which is in its early stages before the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
This is part 3 of the Other Side of the Appeal.
The Other Side of the Appeal – By the Man Who Most Wanted to See Raniere Convicted dealt with my impressions of Nicholas G. Garaufis, the US district court judge for the Eastern District of NY who presided over the trial of Keith Alan Raniere.
Part 3 is about Tanya Hajjar, second lead attorney for the prosecution and current lead for the appeal of the case.
AUSA Tanya HajjarAssistant US Attorney Tanya Hajjar, as second lead, could have likely been the lead attorney and conducted the case all by herself.
Her examinations of witnesses and arguments before the jury were persuasive. Her measured, sincere manner of delivery and comely appearance contrasted with the growingly despicable-to-the-jury defendant, Raniere and the quixotic attempts to defend him by his attorneys, led by Marc Agnifilo.
Hajjar’s committed portrayal of Keith Raniere during the reading of a selection of texts between Cami and him was a triumph.
Later, we will examine if it was fair to have allowed those texts into evidence, but no one can doubt that it was smart for the prosecution to try to get them admitted.
It was smarter still to have Hajjar [and not the male member of the prosecution, Mark Lesko] read the Raniere half of the Cami texts.
Before the jury, comprised, as I recall, of eight men and four women, [plus alternates] was this extremely attractive and articulate woman reading the words of the man seated before them – the defendant Keith Raniere, supposedly the world’s most brilliant man.
Hajjar as Raniere never over-acted and seemed to keep to character even when she was not speaking but listening to Special Agent Meghan Rees reading Cami’s texts.
If it were a stage play I would say Hajjar was luminous, playing Raniere cool, just as we know Raniere to be cool, even when language betrays seething upset. Hajjar in her clear-voiced reading of insane or cruel texts, downplaying, deadpanning, letting words damn, yet meant by her reading to evoke sympathy for Cami, and hatred or disgust of the man seated in the courtroom before the jury – the defendant Raniere – was an accomplishment.
FBI Special Agent Rees’s complicated portrayal of Cami was expert too. Though Cami wrote texts that were sexual and liberated at times, and slavish at other times, she appears in the selection of texts read as tormented, afraid, desperate, needy, depressed, childlike and virginal – and always a victim.
Imagine the tragicomic scene and the irony, as Hajjar, a woman Raniere would have surely craved to have in his harem, a woman, mind you, reading his gritty texts, speaking as him about his penis size and urgently asking questions about the taste of his semen.
If there is irony that can masquerade as karma, this was it.
It was well-paced as Special Agent Rees read innocent, benighted Cami and Hajjar read the rapacious, demanding, paranoidal Raniere.
In the courtroom, there was the jury, the media, other spectators, the judge and the defense team and seated at the defense table , across from the jury – about 25 feet away is Raniere. And a slender, attractive, intelligent woman with her mellifluous voice is reading his words.
The time period when the texts were written were about five years before the trial, when Raniere had a harem of some 20 women, and is about 54 years old, some 30 years older than 24-year-old Cami.
In the text selection below Raniere is questioning Cami about an affair she had with the son of one of Raniere’s top ranked NXIVM teachers, a young man about her age.
Consider what the jury saw, heard, felt and thought, during this piquant scene:
HAJJAR [As Raniere]: You chose to be with him because you liked the taste of his semen better?????
REES [As Cami]: No.
HAJJAR: Then what do you mean?
REES: But if I disliked it, I would have avoided it.
HAJJAR: I asked specifically about taste. Did you specifically mention to him you liked it??
REES: I can’t remember.
HAJJAR: I need you to.
HAJJAR: What did you like?
REES: Seriously? I’m hesitant to share this with you.
HAJJAR: I need everything. This is explicitly in the letter I wrote. For me to do anything more with you I need to know you want to tell me all.
REES: Does that mean you accepted the vow?
HAJJAR: No. You keep giving me reasons not to. I keep telling you what I need that is different. Did you like his taste better than mine?
REES: I wish I didn’t have to answer this. Yes.
HAJJAR: The wish thing hurts us. What did you like better?
REES: Taste, consistency, quantity, intensity.
HAJJAR: What about each of these things?
REES: Taste; he is mild and sweet. Consistency; not too concentrated. Quantity; small amount. Intensity; strong release speed. I am sorry you had to hear that.
HAJJAR: He is shorter and thinner penis-wise?
REES: Longer, but thinner.
HAJJAR: Is he longer when I’m fully hard?
REES: Probably about same.
HAJJAR: Did he hit the back of you?
HAJJAR: Last spring?
REES: Oh, I can’t remember.
HAJJAR: I am examining perception. I know his penis is 6.75 fully erect and mine is 7.5, so I am looking at how you are slanting things.
REES: What the fuck? How do you know that?
HAJJAR: Likewise with intensity. You forget our passionate times and compare our day-to-day and in the last year I’ve been heartbroken and could barely function
REES: Why does this matter?
HAJJAR: Maybe someday I’ll tell you, but guys know these things about each other.
REES: I thought men did share these things.
HAJJAR: … Men masturbate together.
REES: No way. Have you masturbated with him?
HAJJAR: They don’t share about their women, but themselves is different.
REES: Have you seen his penis?
HAJJAR: His is definitely not the width or length of mine. How are you going to fix this lie?
REES: You haven’t been at your fullest in a long time. It isn’t a lie.
[Muffled and disguised laughter in the courtroom followed.]
As Mark Twain observed, “There is no character, howsoever good and fine, but it can be destroyed by ridicule, howsoever poor and witless.”
If Raniere’s character was anything but good and fine, it was still anything but witless for Hajjar to read it as she did.
The defendant was made to look not only selfish and controlling, cruel, heartless, domineering, and freakishly obsessive, and ridiculous.
As the pedophile movie producer observed in the Godfather about a woman who ran off with a handsome dago singer, and it is equally true of Raniere, a criminal defendant whose defense is that he was in the position of Vanguard or teacher, with consenting students’ best interests at heart – “a man in his position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous.”
The prosecution’s triumph was really in persuading the judge to admit the texts, selectively culled and arranged in and out of chronological order – with contextual passages sometimes omitted. It was one of the great successes of the prosecution. It is also one of the issues of the appeal.
Still, the prosecution had every right to try to get it admitted and Hajjar read it dispassionately, brilliantly, muscularly, without seeming to try to make Raniere look ridiculous though she knew all along that was precisely what she was doing.
She read as if she was only delivering evidence for its probative value. At times it prompted laugher, muffled and disguised. And the worst kind of ridicule-based destruction of character — when people laugh silently – inside, to themselves, while pretending to take the proceedings seriously.
If Moira Penza left government for the big time practice of law because of the Raniere trial, Hajjar could leave tomorrow and make it big in unscripted reality shows. With her style and exquisitely refined appearance and her skill, she could, I am being literal, easily attract a well-funded series on Netflix, Amazon, Peacock, Apple, HBO, or any platform she might care to choose.
Still, as I reflect on the trial, it is clear that the point of reading the Cami-Keith texts was not to show when Keith might have first had sex with, or took pictures of an underage Cami – though that was part of it.
It was to embellish and enhance the ongoing painting by the prosecutors of Keith as evil, selfish, despicable, just as the prosecution had done every brush stoke up to that point but then to add an additional hue — the odd color of utterly stupid ridiculousness.
After Hajjar completed her performance, Raniere was a much smaller figure — never to recover, no longer only the vile but powerful guru who branded women out of power-lust and evil calculated design; he was now a total ass clown – in the eyes of the jury.
Hajjar’s charismatic reading kept it from bursting bounds of propriety and made this seem like this was reasonable, perfectly admissible evidence – while the undercurrent rang though court – at times as comic relief alternating with the onslaught of relentless moral [but not illegal] turpitude, inexplicable coercive control and massive cruelty to those he claimed he was trying to help.
For the the jury, it must have been a relief to find this disgustingly perverse and weirdly powerful man stupid enough to commit to writing the things he did with Cami.
I believe it gave permission to them to not worry about sufficiency of evidence – for Raniere must be convicted not only for his crimes but for sheer stupidity. That an evil man taken seriously must be judged seriously, point by point – to reach a rational for conviction based in part on the power of his serious, if evil, character.
But a total moron, a man who would get jealous when one of 20 harem women had an affair and to the point of doubling down on the taste of comparative semen and dick size is simply not worthy – I mean this literally – of serious deliberation.
Or as Judge Garaufis, who described himself as “just a local guy here in Brooklyn,” [like the jurors] later observed about Raniere, “Why should anyone look upon [him] as someone who is worthy of respect?”
Hajjar sunk Raniere. She took any prop of him being any kind of smart or even a potentially misguided man, and replaced it with Mr. Stupid.