Epstein: How did he get away with it?
How did he evade consequences for so long? asked David Von Drehle in The Washington Post. As financier Jeffrey Epstein is finally facing new charges of sex trafficking that could put him behind bars for life, it’s clear that “a creeping rot in the American justice system” allowed this industrial-scale predator to run a sex ring of underage girls—and then bribe and flatter his way back into polite society. Back in 2007 Epstein, now 66, faced 45 years in jail after accusations in Florida that he’d recruited dozens of underage girls—most of them poor—to give him “massages” that turned into sexual abuse and rape. With his “enormous and unexplained wealth” (see Business), Epstein hired high-priced lawyers, including Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and former Bill Clinton special prosecutor Ken Starr. They helped him persuade then–U.S. attorney Alex Acosta to let him off the hook with a guilty plea that required Epstein to serve only 13 months in jail, with 12 hours a day in “work release” in his luxurious offices. Epstein reportedly bought the silence of dozens of his victims in return for “nondisclosure agreements.” That’s “rich man’s justice” for you.
Acosta had to resign his job as President Trump’s labor secretary last week because of his role in this scandal, said Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.com, but he’s hardly the only culprit. Even after Epstein had “served” his absurdly light sentence in Florida, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office inexplicably petitioned a judge to lower his sex-offender classification. The NYPD even let Epstein skip the regular 90-day check-ins that are mandatory for sex offenders. Like Harvey Weinstein before him, Epstein has shown that lawyers, journalists, prosecutors, politicians of both parties, and even judges look through “money-colored glasses” at monsters who prey on women and girls.
Epstein once told an interviewer he had assembled “a collection” of famous friends, adding, “I invest in people,” said Jane Coaston and Anna North in Vox.com. Those friends included Britain’s Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton, whose foundation Epstein showered with donations and who flew regularly on Epstein’s private jet. This week, a video surfaced of Epstein partying with his pal Donald Trump and dozens of NFL cheerleaders at Mar-a-Lago in 1992, with Trump pointing women out to Epstein and saying, “She’s hot.” If any of these powerful friends “participated in his abuses,” it may help explain Epstein’s ability to evade justice. Not incidentally, Epstein’s deal with Acosta granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators.” That’s how power works, said Christina Cauterucci in Slate.com. The fact that “so many people appear to have known about and participated in Epstein’s alleged child-trafficking enterprise” made it easier, not harder, for him to get away with his horrific crimes.
So did the “sexual revolution,” said Lisa Miller in NYMag.com. For all its liberating upsides, the revolution’s anything-goes ethos “gave the elites and the circles orbiting them intellectual permission to downgrade sexual violence to a matter of taste.” To people in his A-list social circle, Epstein’s fondness for underage girls was simply an expression, in Woody Allen’s chilling phrase, of “the heart want[ing] what it wants.” So people looked away, took his charitable donations, and enjoyed the rides on his jets and the parties in his mansions. Epstein is “the ultimate symbol of plutocratic rot,” said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. As rich and powerful men sweat out this new investigation and prosecution, the public dissection of Epstein’s empire may reveal “how rotten our rulers really are.” ■