The Jeffrey Epstein case is appalling, heartbreaking and downright nauseating.
How this disgusting human being who preys on young girls got off without a long prison term a decade ago is a testament to a criminal justice system that favors the rich and powerful.
Now that federal prosecutors in Manhattan have charged Epstein with sex trafficking, the entire mess deserves every bit of coverage it’s getting. And that ramped up after federal agents found hundreds, perhaps thousands, of “sexually suggestive” photos of young women and girls in a weekend raid on his 21,000-square-foot Manhattan mansion.
The 66-year-old Epstein “engaged in sex acts with the young women during naked massage sessions,” the New York Times says, “paying them hundreds of dollars in cash, prosecutors said. He also asked some of the girls to recruit other girls, many of whom prosecutors say were underage, and paid them for bringing in new victims, the indictment said.”
Epstein pleaded not guilty in court yesterday.
Prosecutors said they were aided by dogged reporting in The Miami Herald.
While “the alleged behavior shocks the conscience,” as U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said, I do have some questions about the media coverage.
What’s absolutely fair game is to question the role of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who oversaw an absurdly weak plea deal with Epstein when he was the U.S. attorney in Miami. In 2008, Acosta allowed Epstein to plead to a reduced charge that resulted in a 13-month jail term—in which he was allowed to leave for work six days a week.
And Acosta’s team didn’t even bother to notify the victims.
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer demanded yesterday that Acosta resign.
Partisan politics aside, his role in the case is so central that it’s natural for him to come under journalistic scrutiny (though the Senate confirmed Acosta despite that role).
But after that, we edge dangerously into guilt-by-association territory.
Epstein had a number of wealthy friends, including Donald Trump.
That’s hardly shocking, given that Trump spent plenty of time at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago.
"I knew him like everybody else in Palm Beach knew him," Trump told reporters yesterday. "He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him. ... I was not a fan of his."
He deflected questions about Acosta.
The press has dug up a 2002 interview in which Trump told New York Magazine that Epstein was “a terrific guy. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
That’s embarrassing in light of what happened later. But there’s absolutely no evidence that Trump knew Epstein was a pedophile. It’s an easy insinuation, given Trump’s history of womanizing and allegations of sexual harassment and assault, which he’s denied, but an unfair one.
And the same goes for another Epstein pal, Bill Clinton, who flew around on Epstein’s jet. A spokesman said he “knows nothing about the terrible crimes” that Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida or is now charged with in New York.
The statement details Clinton’s encounters with Epstein, including four flights overseas in 2002 and 2003 when the former president was accompanied by Clinton Foundation staff and his Secret Service detail.
Rumors have swirled for years about Epstein and Clinton, who obviously has his own history of sexual scandals. But as with Trump, there’s no evidence that Clinton knew of the underage girls.
All this is reminiscent, in a way, of another monster, Harvey Weinstein, once incredibly well-connected in Hollywood, New York and throughout the entertainment and political world. Before the public knew that Weinstein had sexually harassed, threatened and slept with many actresses and others, he was a big-time Democratic donor who gave money to, among others, Hillary Clinton.
This was embarrassing, to be sure, but the politicians obviously didn’t know about Weinstein’s dark side, and scrambled to distance themselves.
If any evidence emerges that Epstein’s political pals or fat-cat buddies knew of his predatory behavior, I’ll be the first to condemn them.
But for now, the media should focus their outrage on Epstein himself-- and a justice system that, until now, let him off the hook.