BY JOE CONASON
The case of super-rich sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is so disturbing, not only because dozens of women say he victimized them as young girls, and not only because he went almost unpunished, but because his wealth appears to have enabled his criminality for years. While the sources of Epstein’s enormous fortune remain mysterious and may never be fully revealed, it is vital that we learn how he eluded justice until now.
The answer may not lie among the prominent politicians, businessmen, scientists and entertainment figures once cultivated by Epstein. Names like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton always make titillating copy, especially in this sordid tale, and it isn’t surprising that coverage has focused on the two presidents. Perhaps seeking to deflect attention from Trump, Trump’s henchmen, such as political consultant Roger Stone [now under indictment] and former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker [who narrowly escaped indictment], have long tried to use Epstein to smear Clinton. And they have succeeded in spreading urban legends about Clinton and Epstein that bear little resemblance to the known facts.
Epstein loaned his airplane for several Clinton Foundation trips abroad, including at least one to Africa that he joined. He also gave financial assistance to the foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. Clinton’s spokesman says that whenever they met, Clinton’s staff and Secret Service detail accompanied him. There is no evidence that Clinton knew of Epstein’s crimes or maintained the connection after those offenses were revealed.
As for Trump, he never needed Epstein to exercise his own troubling predilections and fantasies. He owned a modeling agency and a beauty pageant, often bragging how those enterprises gave him access to young girls without clothes. Indeed, he became infamous for intruding on the dressing rooms of the Miss USA pageant. “You know, they’re standing there with no clothes,” he told radio personality Howard Stern in 2005. “And you see these incredible-looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that.”
Getting away with “things like that” and much worse is what Trump has done all his life. The question of the moment is how Jeffrey Epstein could have gotten away with raping and trafficking minors – even after the authorities collared him.
At the center of that scandal are neither Clinton nor Trump but a trio of right-wing lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis, one of the nation’s most powerful law and lobbying firms. One of those lawyers is Kenneth W. Starr, who achieved a kind of fame as the independent counsel who pursued Clinton and sought his impeachment. Another was Starr’s partner Jay Lefkowitz, who joined Starr to defend Epstein against the charges he faced in Florida. And then there is Alexander Acosta, their old friend, hired to work at Kirkland & Ellis by Starr before winning appointment as U.S. attorney in Florida – and brokering the plea deal that saved Epstein from life in prison.
Although there is nothing unusual about lawyers negotiating with former colleagues who go on to work for the Justice Department, the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s deal deserve the most searching scrutiny. Undoubtedly, Epstein hired Starr and Lefkowitz to take advantage of their friendship with Acosta – but what remains to be determined is whether they violated ethical boundaries in securing his undeserved freedom.
According to the Miami Herald, Acosta met with Lefkowitz in October 2007 to negotiate a way out of his office’s 53-page draft sex trafficking indictment of Epstein. “Instead of meeting at the prosecutor’s Miami headquarters, the two men … convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away,” where “a deal was struck,” the Herald wrote. Epstein would plead guilty to state prostitution charges that freed him after only 13 months and allowed him to leave jail for his office six days a week.
Moreover, according to a letter Lefkowitz wrote to Acosta, Acosta agreed not to inform “any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants” against Epstein about the sweetheart deal.
Legal ethics experts told American Lawyer Media that the circumstances of the breakfast between Lefkowitz and Acosta were “troubling.” New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, a top legal ethicist, said that their meeting outside work hours at a “remote location … will inevitably suggest special treatment in the public’s mind and the appearance that Acosta was trying to hide his conduct.”
As Epstein’s prosecution finally moves forward in New York, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility will investigate why justice was delayed and almost denied. The career attorneys there must stand firm against any interference by Attorney General William Barr, another Kirkland & Ellis partner who has already proved himself untrustworthy. Both he and Trump must back off – and let the truth emerge at last.
– Joe Conason’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer