Why the Trump White House Is Caught Up in the Jeffrey Epstein Scandal
In the years since Mr. Epstein was first accused of sexually abusing minors, one of Mr. Trump’s Cabinet officials has been accused of letting him off easy.
By Vivian Wang
July 7, 2019
By the time Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire financier and felon, was arrested on Saturday and charged with sex trafficking, he had been repeatedly accused of pedophilia and sexual abuse for more than a decade.
But Mr. Epstein — whose acquaintances include two presidents and multiple celebrities — had until then avoided federal prosecution.
Now, Mr. Epstein is expected to appear in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday to face charges that include sex trafficking of minors, involving multiple underage girls, between 2002 and 2005, according to two law enforcement sources.
The charges include a claim that he routinely brought underage girls to his home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where he paid them hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and sexual acts, one of the sources said.
The case could shed new light not only on the allegations, which span years and countries, but also on the extent to which officials who have been linked to Mr. Epstein — including, most notably, President Trump and his labor secretary, Alexander Acosta — knew about or downplayed them.
Who is Jeffrey Epstein?
Mr. Epstein, 66, worked at the investment bank Bear Stearns for six years before opening his own firm, in 1982, to manage money for very wealthy clients.
His circle of friends and acquaintances included many high-profile figures, including Mr. Trump, former President Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew of Britain and Leslie Wexner, a business mogul who owns Victoria’s Secret and other retail brands.
Mr. Clinton flew on Mr. Epstein’s private plane dozens of times, according to flight records, and Prince Andrew has attended parties with Mr. Epstein.
Mr. Trump told New York magazine in 2002 that Mr. Epstein was a “terrific guy” whom he had known for 15 years.
“He’s a lot of fun to be with,” the president said at the time. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
What is he accused of?
The charges against Mr. Epstein predate Saturday’s arrest by more than a decade, and involve a sordid history that has infuriated victims and raised questions of preferential treatment by law enforcement.
In 2005, the parents of a 14-year-old girl told the police in Palm Beach, Fla., that Mr. Epstein had molested their daughter at his home there. Before the police referred the case to the F.B.I. in 2006, they identified three dozen potential victims, who said that Mr. Epstein had paid them, while they were underage, for massages, oral sex and intercourse, according to a police report obtained by The Miami Herald.
The abuse dated back to 2001, according to The Herald. Most of the victims were between 13 and 16. Many came from low-income backgrounds and were told they could earn $200 or $300 for giving Mr. Epstein a massage, the Herald reported.
“We just wanted money for school clothes, for shoes,” one woman told The Herald.
Federal prosecutors in Miami initially drafted a 53-page indictment against Mr. Epstein. But in 2008, those prosecutors — led by Mr. Acosta, then the region’s United States attorney, and now Mr. Trump’s labor secretary — struck a deal with Mr. Epstein’s lawyers that allowed him to avoid federal charges. Instead, Mr. Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution.
Under the federal charges, Mr. Epstein could have faced life in prison. After the deal, he served 13 months in jail. He had work-release privileges for six days a week, 12 hours each day, during which a private driver picked him up and took him to a nearby office.
In subsequent years, during civil court proceedings, witnesses have testified that hundreds of girls from around the world were brought to Mr. Epstein at different times.
Prosecutors did not tell the victims about the deal they made with Mr. Epstein until after a judge approved it — even though federal law requires victims to be informed of major developments involving their complaints.
The new charges involve sex trafficking and were brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, with help from the New York Police Department and the F.B.I. Mr. Epstein’s arrest on Saturday was first reported by The Daily Beast.
What is the connection to the Trump administration?Mr. Acosta, whom Mr. Trump nominated as labor secretary in 2017, has faced intense scrutiny for his role in Mr. Epstein’s deal to avoid prosecution, which has been widely criticized as shockingly lenient.
A series of investigative stories by The Herald last year revealed that Mr. Acosta was personally involved in the negotiations. He met privately with one of Mr. Epstein’s lawyers, who was also one of Mr. Acosta’s former colleagues.
In subsequent weeks, prosecutors from Mr. Acosta’s office gave Mr. Epstein’s lawyers an unusual amount of control over the terms of the plea deal, The Herald reported.
“Thank you for the commitment you made to me,’’ Mr. Epstein’s lawyer wrote in a letter to Mr. Acosta after their meeting, noting that Mr. Acosta had assured him that he would not contact “any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants,” The Herald reported.
Mr. Acosta’s office also agreed to help shield the deal from public scrutiny, according to The Herald. The case’s lead prosecutor, A. Marie Villafaña, wrote to Mr. Epstein’s lawyer at one point: “I can file the charge in district court in Miami which will hopefully cut the press coverage significantly. Do you want to check that out?”
During Mr. Acosta’s Senate confirmation hearing, he defended the deal by noting that Mr. Epstein had been required to register as a sex offender. He also said in 2011 that the plea deal’s results were “better” than risking a trial, which he said had “a reduced likelihood of success.”
The former White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said months ago that the administration was looking into the information about Mr. Acosta detailed by The Herald, although he has remained in his job.
The president’s relationship with Mr. Epstein is less clear.
A lawyer for Mr. Trump has denied that the president and Mr. Epstein had a social relationship, despite Mr. Trump’s comments in 2002 to New York magazine.
One of Mr. Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre, said in court documents that she was recruited to give Mr. Epstein massages while she was working at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s Florida resort. Mr. Epstein has been photographed with Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
What happens next?
Mr. Epstein is expected to appear before a federal magistrate judge in New York on Monday. There is no federal statute of limitations on child sex trafficking.
Separately, a federal judge ruled in February that the government had violated the rights of Mr. Epstein’s alleged victims, after two of them had sued the government for not telling them about the non-prosecution deal until it had been finalized.
That ruling opened the possibility of nullifying the agreement and allowing Mr. Epstein to be prosecuted on the original federal charges. But federal prosecutors have argued that the violation should not void the agreement, even as they acknowledged they had treated Mr. Epstein’s victims unfairly. The judge, Kenneth A. Marra, will decide what happens next.
Also in February, the Justice Department opened its own probe into the plea deal and whether its attorneys had committed “professional misconduct” in resolving the case in 2008.
Ali Watkins, Joseph Goldstein and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting
Vivian Wang is a reporter for the Metro Desk, covering New York State politics in Albany. She was raised in Chicago and graduated from Yale University. @vwang3https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/07/nyre ... trump.html