Epstein’s Still Big! “Who cares?” is what somebody asked — loudly — at a dinner recently when I brought up the Jeffrey Epstein case. It’s the same question, in the same tone, that I used to get when I argued that the staid L.A. Times should pay more attention to Lindsay Lohan’s bad driving. The objection to Epstein seemed to be this: ‘So there’s this rich perv, and he exploited underage girls. Now he’s dead and they’re suing his estate. BFD. Only someone who enjoyed tawdry gossip and cheap mystery novels would think this is still newsworthy.’
Point 1: You got a problem with cheap mystery novels? This is a great mystery, starting with whether Epstein really killed himself. The circumstantial evidence on that question is mounting: Epstein’s roommate pulled from his cell the day before he died, guards falling asleep, jailhouse video cameras that, gee, unexpectedly malfunction. At some point, Occam’s razor begins to cut in another direction.
Point 2. Epstein was way more than just a rich perv. Does anyone really think his troubling, immoral, and illegal conduct was confined to sex? For one thing, how did he get his money? Look at the possibilities on the list — money laundering, espionage, blackmail, insider trading… . Nobody thinks he made his half billion legally the way he said he made his money: by brilliantly managing a hedge fund. The only legit possibility I can think of is if his patron, billionaire Leslie Wexner, somehow gave him the loot. (But why?)
Take the leading, money laundering, theory A laundering operation big enough to buy a Gatsby-sized place in New York society — isn’t that something we want to know about? That goes double for a possible blackmail operation that ensnared captains of industry and politics. Still more significantly, the espionage angle raises the prospect that some important American and foreign political figures were compromised. Even the League of Women Voters (or the old LA Times) might think that newsworthy.
We’re in the middle of a global populist surge. There’s a sense that elites are not playing by the same rules as everyone else. They might not even be playing the same game. It’s pretty clear that Epstein was running some kind of a sex ring for the rich and well connected. How big a ring? We don’t know until we try to find out. But there are reports out there [click if you dare] that it’s bigger than we might think — bigger than old, familiar Prince Andrew, involving a non-trivial cross-section of business and entertainment leaders, plus some prominent Anglo-American families and maybe a handful of nation states.
Do we live in a society where people try to get rich so they can build bigger houses, drive faster cars, wear nice clothes and send their children to the best schools. Or is that really a facade behind which they escape into a secret lawless world where they order up underage girls and boys to rape and abuse? Are we living in Disney movie or a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie?
Don’t we want to know? If we follow the Epstein case to its conclusion, we might learn which is the reality. Epstein’s the biggest red pill we’ve been handed in decades.
Certainly sociologists and historians of the future will want to know. It might be too late by then. But they’ll get tenure if they find out. Why not beat them to it?
P.S.: Landon Thomas, Fall Guy: The New York Times should be deeply embarrassed by its failure to adequately cover the Epstein scandal, which was largely happening in its back yard.
Vanity Fair’s Vicky Ward covered Epstein (to the extent Graydon Carter let her). Phil Weiss covered Epstein. Conchita Sarnoff covered Epstein. And finally the story was propelled out of the undernews by Julie Brown of the Miami Herald, who found a Trump Angle the MSM couldn’t resist. Meanwhile, what did the Times produce? There was a thorough, skeptical 2006 report by Abby Goodnough when Epstein was first investigated — a report the paper buried on page A-19 under the most boring headline imaginable (“Questions of Preferential Treatment Are Raised in Florida Sex Case”). Then when Epstein was finally about to be (briefly) jailed in 2008, Timesman Landon Thomas produced a comically credulous, charitable profile (“He has paid for college educations for personal employees and students from Rwanda … Mr. Epstein gazed at the azure sea and the lush hills of St. Thomas … and tried explain how his life had taken such a turn.”)
Now we learn (from an excellent David Folkenflik report) that Thomas had been close enough to Epstein that years later, in 2017, he asked the pedophile to donate money to a Montessori School in Harlem. Epstein apparently gave $30,000 —a wise investment. But once Thomas disclosed this to his editors he was taken off the Epstein beat and soon was gone from the paper.
That’s fine, but there will be the temptation for the Times to blame its pathetic Epstein record on Thomas, which would be absurd. The editors read Thomas’ 2008 piece and didn’t realize it was awful until 9 years later when they learned he’d violated an ethics rule? Why didn’t they commission other, better pieces (like Weiss’)?
Either Times editors didn’t know a good story when they saw it — a likely possibilitity at the old L.A. Times, but not at the NYT — or there was something holding them back. What was it? It would be crude to suggest it was politics — that at some level they realized investigating Epstein would inevitably lead to embarrassment or worse for Bill Clinton and by extension Hillary Clinton, who was running for president or planning to run throughout this period. But sometimes the crude explanation is the right one. True, the Times did run a less explosive Bill Clinton sex piece in 2006 (“Nights out find him zipping around Los Angeles with his bachelor buddy, Ronald W. Burkle”). But that piece got so much blowback the paper may have decided not to go any further on its own — an editorial stance known around newsweeklies as ‘Get it first, but first get it second.’
Chasing girls is one thing, after all. Underage girls are another.
Maybe the Times’ editors — and not just the top ones (Raines, Keller, Abramson & Baquet) — can provide a more sophisticated account. They’ve got some ‘splainin to do.
Maybe accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein has only half a billion dollars. Or half that. Still a pile of money. Epstein operates his own 727 and it’s not cheap to fly Bill Clinton to Africa. How’d he get it all? Here are 8 popular theories, in order of increasing plausibility:
8. Master Trader! In this theory, Epstein made his millions the way he said he made his millions, by brilliantly managing money for wealthy clients. Nobody believes this theory. For one thing, Epstein seems to have been a virtual unknown in the trading world.
7. Insider trading: Initially plausible. Epstein has a lot of rich and powerful friends. Maybe they tell him things about their businesses. But in order to capitalize on this information he’d have to trade, which people would notice — see #8 above. When inside trader Ivan Boesky made trades, people knew he was making trades, no?
6. Blackmail: Theory favored by many and outlined in a viral tweet from “Quantian.” In this scenario, Epstein lures ultra rich friends to parties, then gets compromising videos and photos of them having sex, perhaps with underage women.
Morning after, you strike. You inform him she was really 15, but you offer him a nice, neat way to buy your silence: a large allocation to your hedge fund.
They agree to invest, and maybe don’t demand a return on their investment. Problem: There can’t be that many billionaires interested in underage sex. And if there were, it would be very hard to blackmail that many of them and get away with it without someone blowing the whistle or retaliating in, um, other ways. It’s a pretty confrontational lifestyle Quantian outlines. … Plus: Why would Epstein want to have parties filled with boring businessmen when he could have parties filled with movie stars, directors, Nobel physicists and other celebrities (who aren’t typically rich enough to be lucrative blackmail targets). Caveat: I’m not saying Epstein didn’t collect kompromat in his CD collection. Always comes in handy. I’m saying if he did it’s probably not how he got his money.
5. Maitre D’ of a sex club: In this, seemingly more plausible theory, rich people aren’t blackmailed into giving Epstein money. They’ve voluntarily set him up to look rich while he procures young women (and men?) for them. Problem: Seems like a lot for a rich person to pay just to get laid, unless Epstein could somehow spread the cost over a (secret) subscriber list the size of Joe Rogan’s. If he’s catering to niche tastes—eg. “tweens and teens” — how many ultra-rich people are there who are also into that?
4. Ponzi Scheme: Theory given credence by Epstein’s association with Steven Hoffenberg, an actual convicted Ponzi schemer whom Epstein worked for, and who has since accused Epstein of being “totally in the mix” of his fraud. Problem: Ponzi schemes need to attract a constant stream of new investors (their money is then used to pay the “returns” to earlier investors). When they don’t get new recruits, they die. Is there any evidence that Epstein was desperately drumming up new (sucker) investors? Maybe he got his initial nest egg from Hoffenberg (as some, such as Entylawyer, have claimed). But after that, this seems an unlikely fortune-builder.
3. Charitable abuse: Thomas Volscho, a professor working on an Epstein book, says:
He was running charities for [Leslie] Wexner [the retail billionaire and Epstein’s one major client], and then was running his own charities, and they always had $9 million or $10 million donations circulating around them. And I always suspected, but not got around to pursuing, that he was embezzling funds. And I can’t prove that, but that’s my suspicion right now
Seems like a reliable way to enrich yourself, especially for someone with Epstein’s brilliant aura. But $9-10 million is nickel and dime stuff when you have a 727 to maintain.
2. Espionage: Hottest theory at the moment, in part because the other theories have problems. In Daily Beast, Vicky Ward reports:
Is the Epstein case going to cause a problem [for confirmation hearings]?” [future Labor secretary Alex] Acosta had been asked. Acosta had explained, breezily, apparently, that back in the day he’d had just one meeting on the Epstein case. He’d cut the non-prosecution deal with one of Epstein’s attorneys because he had “been told” to back off, that Epstein was above his pay grade. “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,” he told his interviewers in the Trump transition, who evidently thought that was a sufficient answer ….
Acosta was asked about this ‘intelligence asset’ business at his Wednesday press conference. He answered: “So there has been reporting to that effect … I can’t address it directly because of our guidelines.” OK! That’ll dampen the speculation.
Why wouldn’t a foreign intelligence agency (or a domestic one) want to subsidize Epstein if it could get compromising leverage over a slew of public figures? Yet the list of Epstein’s contacts — i.e. potentially compromisable public figures — isn’t that impressive: Bill Clinton, Prince Bandar, Tony Blair, Jon Huntsman, Henry Kissinger … .** Clinton is the obvious big fish here. He left office in 2001, but his wife was a potential, maybe even likely president. But why, after she lost, didn’t the Mossad or the Kremlin or whoever roll the expensive Epstein operation up? …. Oh wait.
**— Trump too, of course. But did anyone think Trump might be president in the late twentieth century years when Epstein was getting rich?
1. Money Laundering: You can make a lot of money laundering money — 10% of the amount laundered or more, they say. Until recently, Epstein had a working relationship with Deutsche Bank, which has some experience in this lucrative specialty. The main problem with this (unproven) money laundering scenario, as far as the sensational Epstein scandal goes, is that it’s wildly boring.