Robert De Niro’s explosive tough guy texts revealed in court showdown: ‘Who the f*** does she think she is?’

‘Can you believe Chase? Who the f*** does she think she is?’ Robert De Niro texted his girlfriend Tiffany Chen about his former assistant

Bevan Hurley
at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan US Courthouse
Thursday 02 November 2023 10:39 GMT
Day 2 of Robert De Niro court trial

Explosive private text messages between Robert De Niro and girlfriend Tiffany Chen attacking his former personal assistant were revealed to a New York City jury on Wednesday.

De Niro, 80, is accused of causing “extreme emotional distress and reputational harm” in a $12m (£9.9m) workplace discrimination lawsuit brought by his assistant of 11 years Graham Chase Robinson.

In a counter suit, the Goodfellas actor alleges Ms Robinson stole cash, gift cards, electronic equipment and $450,000 worth of air miles from his company Canal Productions before she quit in 2019 over repeated clashes with Ms Chen.

A day after De Niro’s fiery testimony, his attorney of 30 years Tom Harvey took the witness stand on Wednesday where his role negotiating her exit from the company was probed.

Mr Harvey told the court that he had been charged with seeking the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of company property from Ms Robinson that was discovered after she left.

Ms Robinson demanded a large severance package and a letter of recommendation to the London School of Economics to go quietly, but an incensed De Niro refused to sign, Mr Harvey said.

Robert De Niro arrives at federal court on 30 October 2023 in New York City to testify in workplace discrimination case brought by his former assistant 

In a July 2019 text exchange shown to the court, De Niro wrote to Ms Chen: “Can you believe Chase? Who the f*** does she think she is?”

“She thought she was your girlfriend. I saw it from the beginning,” Ms Chen replied.

“The balls. The nerve. The chutzpah. The sense of entitlement. How dare her,” De Niro continued, evoking his tough guy movie persona.

“Tom will get her,” Ms Chen responded.

Ms Robinson’s attorney Andrew Macurdy played a recording of a phone call that Ms Robinson secretly taped in which Mr Harvey told her: “You have to understand that it’s possible Tiffany has made you out to be a lunatic right?”

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After Ms Robinson left De Niro’s company in 2019, staff allegedly discovered she had used company credit cards to buy groceries at Whole Foods and Dean and Deluca, pay for restaurants, flowers, and personal travel, and taken five million air miles, the court heard.

Over a two year period, Ms Robinson spent $37,327 of company money on her Uber and car rides.

Mr Harvey said he was surprised to learn about the travel expenses, saying: “I was aware that Mr De Niro sometimes takes the subway, I’m aware he expects his children and employees should sometimes take the subway instead of Ubers and limousines.”

Earlier on Wednesday, two of De Niro’s employees took the witness stand to describe the culture of fear they experienced working under Ms Robinson.

Michael Kaplan, who carried out “special ops” for De Niro, testified that Ms Robinson would “go nuts, slam doors”, make off-colour remarks, and generally “make life hell” for the other assistants.

Mr Kaplan recalled De Niro getting a back rub from Ms Robinson on a couple of occasions. Once, the actor was trying to “get a shimmy on” by rubbing his back against a doorway, and Ms Robinson had said: “let me get that”.

Robinson alleges she was forced to perform demeaning tasks including giving the storied actor back rubs

Ms Robinson, who was paid $300,000 (£247,000) a year, had a taste for the finer things in life, Mr Kaplan said.

The native New Yorker never rode the subway, always flew first or business class, and complained that first class on American Airlines was basically “like flying coach” he said.

Mr Kaplan, who earned $85,000 (£70,000) a year, said Ms Robinson had been upset to find out that staff had used air miles to book flights for De Niro during a round-the-world trip. It never happened again, he said.

He added that she was “very secretive” about what tasks she carried out at Canal.

“We realised afterwards it’s a little bit smoke and mirrors because the office would run smoothly without her,” said Mr Kaplan.

Sabrina Weeks-Brittan, who was hired to be De Niro’s executive assistant in 2018, testified that she and another assistant Gillian Spear would take turns at being on-call 24/7, and Ms Robinson would often call their shared mobile — labelled the “Batphone” — late at night to check they would pick it up.

She recalled getting a call from Ms Robinson at 3am on Christmas Day, when Ms Robinson said: “‘Hi just checking,’ and then she hung up.”

A courtroom sketch of De Niro

A day earlier, De Niro shouted “shame on you” across the courtroom at Ms Robinson when he gave fiery testimony in the case.

“Yeah, fine, I berated her,” De Niro admitted, but denied mistreating his former assistant.

He conceded he might have called her “petulant,” “snippy” and a “f***ing spoiled brat”, but said he never yelled.

“I was never abusive, ever,” he said.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

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