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Epstein papers leave questions about what powerful men knew about his crimes

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump were friendly with and traveled with Jeffrey Epstein during years when he allegedly victimized women. Both say they had no knowledge of Epstein's behavior. One alleged victim says Epstein's powerful acquaintances "had to be blind" not to know.
Ted Shaffrey
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AP
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump were friendly with and traveled with Jeffrey Epstein during years when he allegedly victimized women. Both say they had no knowledge of Epstein's behavior. One alleged victim says Epstein's powerful acquaintances "had to be blind" not to know.

The new trove of documents linked to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, which was released by a federal court over the past two weeks, didn't unmask any major public figures or include shocking revelations.

But the documents include claims from Epstein's alleged victims who say prominent men who socialized with Epstein must have known what was going on and failed to blow the whistle — even if they didn't engage in criminal behavior themselves.

"If you walked foot into Jeffrey Epstein's house and you went in there and you continued to be an acquaintance of his then you would have to know what was going on there," Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein's alleged victims, testified in a newly revealed 2016 deposition.

"I would say the first time they came to [Epstein's home] there is nude pictures everywhere. These are [photographs of] salacious acts of girls, young girls doing things to each other that would be considered child pornography," she added.

Those named in the Epstein documents include former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, and Harvard professor and attorney Alan Dershowitz, among many others.

The fact that an individual is named or that they socialized with Epstein does not indicate wrongdoing. But the documents raise questions about who knew what about Epstein's activity.

At one point in testimony made public for the first time, Giuffre said former President Bill Clinton was among the men aware of Epstein's activity:

"Yes, he would be a witness because he knew what my purpose there was for Jeffrey and he visited Jeffrey's island," she said, adding that sexual activity involving girls was "something that Jeffrey Epstein wasn't shy about admitting to people."

Photographs have emerged of Clinton receiving a neck massage at an airport from a young woman who now describes herself as one of Epstein's victims.

But in a 2019 statement, Clinton — who is named frequently in the documents --- said he never visited Epstein's private island in the Virgin Islands and "knew nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida."

Angel Ureña, a spokesman for Clinton, said it had been nearly 20 years since Clinton last had contact with Epstein and that the former president has never been accused of any wrongdoing.

In separate sworn depositions, alleged victim Sarah Ransome said Epstein was transparent about trafficking girls to visitors who came to his home in New York City and his private island in the Virgin Islands.

"There were various buildings around the island ... like little shelter things, where him and his guests used to have sex with the girls, like beds set up for instant sexual entertainment," Ransome said in 2017.

One of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims said young women were offered to guests for "instant sexual entertainment" at his property on Little St. James Island. The powerful men who socialized with Epstein say they had no idea sex trafficking occurred.
Gabriel Lopez Albarran / AP
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AP
One of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims said young women were offered to guests for "instant sexual entertainment" at his property on Little St. James Island. The powerful men who socialized with Epstein say they had no idea sex trafficking occurred.

"At his town house [in New York] I was also lent out by him to his friends and associates to have sex," she alleged under oath.

At least one public figure, former President Donald Trump, has acknowledged in a 2002 interview being aware that Epstein "liked beautiful women...on the younger side."

Trump, who is also named in the documents and acknowledged being friends with Epstein for "fifteen years" has said he did nothing wrong and knew nothing of Epstein's criminal behavior.

"Did any of us know what was going on?"

Harvard Professor and prominent attorney, Alan Dershowitz, who represented Jeffrey Epstein, says he knew nothing about wrongdoing while the two were friends. "Did any of us know what was going on? I can't vouch for other people. I can only tell you, I didn't know."
J. Scott Applewhite / AP
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AP
Harvard Professor and prominent attorney, Alan Dershowitz, who represented Jeffrey Epstein, says he knew nothing about wrongdoing while the two were friends. "Did any of us know what was going on? I can't vouch for other people. I can only tell you, I didn't know."

In an interview this week with NPR, Harvard law professor and attorney Alan Dershowitz, who was friends with Epstein and represented him, said Epstein kept his predatory behavior carefully closeted.

"Did any of us know what was going on? I can't vouch for other people. I can only tell you, I didn't know," he said.

"That was shocking that could have happened without us knowing, without us seeing, because as you say there were so many people around them."

Federal prosecutors now say Epstein, who worked for decades as a private financier for a secretive list of wealthy clients before taking his own life in a federal jail in 2019, operated sex-trafficking ring, which at times involved minors, from 1994 until at least 2004.

He allegedly developed a scheme to identify and exploit "dozens" of vulnerable girls and young women, some as young as 14 years old. His accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, is currently serving a 2o-year sentence for perpetrating what U.S. Attorney Damian Williams called "heinous crimes against children."

Dershowitz, who denies any wrongdoing, acknowledges being close to Epstein from 1996 through 2008, describing visits to Epstein's homes as well as phone conversations and meetings at social and professional gatherings.

He worked on the high-powered legal team that crafted a controversial deal in 2008 allowing Epstein avoid federal charges.

Epstein instead pleaded guilty to relatively minor state-level prostitution charges in Florida and was allowed to serve most of his 18-month sentence in a work-release program.

Dershowitz told NPR he now believes Epstein did engage in criminal, abusive behavior, and says their personal relationship ended after 2008. But he says he saw no red flags involving young women while they were socializing.

"One of my sons said, 'Stay away from this guy, I don't like him financially," Dershowitz recalled, referring to the financial and consulting services Epstein provided to clients. "But nobody warned me about anything having to do with sex."

"You would have to be blind not to know"

In 2016 testimony, revealed in the new documents, Giuffre offers a different narrative, saying under oath that Dershowitz was one of the powerful men present at social events where it was obvious that young women like herself were vulnerable.

Giuffre: The only thing I can say to that is that there were minors around and did Dershowitz know that Jeffrey Epstein was using these minors for sexual
purposes, yes, he did.

Q. How do you know that?

Giuffre: How do I know what he knew, because he was around Jeffrey Epstein so many times that you would have to be blind to not know what Jeffrey Epstein was doing.

Asked by NPR about those statements, Dershowitz described Giuffre as unreliable and said claims by her and Ransome that he had sexual encounters with them were false.

Dershowitz pointed to the fact Giuffre has since expressed uncertainty about her claims that she had met and had sex with him.

Asked more broadly by NPR how he and others could have missed signs Epstein and Maxwell were abusive to young women, Dershowitz said Epstein "kept his private life completely secret."

"I regret having ever met him. I think it was the worst thing that ever happened in my life meeting him," Dershowitz said.

Asked about his role as an attorney, helping Epstein avoid more serious federal criminal charges for trafficking underage girls, Dershowitz said he acted professionally:

"I don't know how I could have done anything different. That's just in my wheelhouse, what I do. I regret the outcome, of course, I regret having ever met him, but I can't say I feel guilty about anything I did."

After that deal was struck, Epstein, a registered sex offender, continued to live freely for years. According to an investigation published last month by The Wall Street Journal, he continued his practice of traveling to meetings with powerful men in the company of young women.

There's no evidence that at any point any of the men who interacted with Epstein raised concerns about his behavior with authorities.

In 2019, after the Miami Herald published an expose about Epstein, he was finally arrested on federal sex trafficking charges. He took his own life in jail while awaiting trial.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.