How Investigative Reporting & Survivor Testimony Toppled Billionaire Serial Abuser Jeffrey Epstein

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Billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was charged in a Manhattan federal court Monday with sex trafficking and conspiracy. He is accused of sexually assaulting and trafficking dozens of underage girls between 2002 and 2005 at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida. Epstein, who has counted Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton among his friends, pleaded not guilty and is being held in jail until his bond hearing next week. Several accusers were present in federal court in Manhattan on Monday. In November 2018, the Miami Herald published a series of articles by investigative reporter Julie Brown exposing Epstein’s crimes and the high-powered people, such as President Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who protected him. Epstein’s arrest after more than a decade of accusations is in part being hailed as a feat of local investigative journalism. We speak with Casey Frank, the senior editor for investigations at the Miami Herald.

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Video squareStoryJul 08, 2019Jeffrey Epstein, a Billionaire Friend of Presidents Trump & Clinton, Arrested for Sex Trafficking
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was charged in a Manhattan federal court Monday with sex trafficking and conspiracy. He’s accused of sexually assaulting and trafficking dozens of underage girls between 2002 to 2005 at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, where he paid them hundreds of dollars to perform sex acts and help recruit other girls for him to abuse.

Epstein has pleaded not guilty and is being held in jail until a July 15th bail hearing. Prosecutors say he poses an extraordinary flight risk and should be denied bail. They’re also moving to seize his opulent $56 million Manhattan townhouse, where prosecutors seized a trove of photos of nude or partially nude young women and girls on Saturday—the same day he was arrested at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman unsealed the Epstein indictment.

GEOFFREY BERMAN: We announce the unsealing of sex trafficking charges against Jeffrey Epstein. The charges allege that Epstein sexually abused young girls by enticing them to engage in sex acts for money. … The victims, all underage girls at the time of the alleged conduct, were given hundreds of dollars in cash after each encounter, either by Epstein or by one of Epstein’s employees. The underage girls were initially recruited to provide Epstein with massages, and often did so nude or partially nude. These massages became increasingly sexual in nature and would typically include one or more sex acts as specified in the indictment. As alleged, Epstein also paid certain victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused. This allowed Epstein to create an ever-expanding web of new victims.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman also made an appeal to other women abused by Epstein to come forward and seek justice. Several accusers were present in federal court in Manhattan Monday. Lawyer Sigrid McCawley read statements from two of Epstein’s victims.

SIGRID McCAWLEY: Yes, this is a great day for victims, and I am humbled and inspired by their voices, and I am gratified to get to read a statement on behalf of, first, Virginia Giuffre and, second, Sarah Ransome, both of whom are victims and clients.

So, this is Virginia’s statement: “After years and years of trying my best to shine light in the dark place of sex crimes that Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell and their circle of powerful people committed against me and girls just like me, finding the words adequate enough now to express how I feel is a tall task. But I can say without hesitation that I am deeply pleased that the federal prosecutors in New York have arrested Jeffrey Epstein and our case is taken in a serious way. It is time for Jeffrey Epstein and those who participated in these sex crimes to be brought to justice.”

And this statement is from Sarah Ransome, another victim: “The news of my abuser’s arrest today is a step in the right direction to finally hold Epstein accountable for his crimes and restore my faith that power and money can’t triumph over justice.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Those were the words, first, of Virginia Giuffre and, then, of Sarah Ransome, both victims allegedly of Jeffrey Epstein.

Epstein was previously accused of molesting and trafficking dozens, and potentially hundreds, of underage girls in Florida. But he ended up serving just 13 months in county jail after the U.S. prosecutor in Florida—and now President Trump’s labor secretary—Alexander Acosta, cut what’s been described as “one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history.”

A growing number of lawmakers are calling on Acosta to step down immediately. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for his resignation on Monday, tweeting, quote, “As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/ Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice. This was known by @POTUS when he appointed him to the cabinet. #AcostaResign.”

Epstein has counted Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton among his friends. Trump told New York magazine in 2002, quote, “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” In 2000, Trump was photographed with Epstein at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

AMY GOODMAN: Epstein’s arrest after more than decades of accusations is in part being hailed as a feat of local investigative journalism. In November 2018, the Miami Herald published a series of articles by investigative reporter Julie Brown exposing Epstein’s crimes and the high-powered people, like Acosta, who protected him. In the wake of the investigation, Epstein settled a defamation lawsuit against the lawyer of some of his accusers, avoiding testimonies from survivors who were expected to take the stand.

For more, we go directly to the Miami Herald in Miami, Florida, where we’re joined by Casey Frank, the senior editor for investigations at the Miami Herald. He has helped lead the paper’s coverage of Jeffrey Epstein.

Casey Frank, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about the significance of the indictment unsealed and the charges against Epstein yesterday? And then go back to what has caused this all to unfold—clearly, your investigation, the reporting of Julie Brown.

CASEY FRANK: Well, the significance, I believe, is that the victims are finally being heard, after years of being ignored and disregarded and, in fact, abused, not only by Mr. Epstein, but also many of them felt abused by the justice system in the state of Florida, the federal—the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Now, how this came about is the direct result of two dogged journalists, Julie K. Brown and Emily Michot. Julie, for years, was involved in exposing some of the abuses in the Florida prison system. And she zeroed in, in particular, on one prison for female inmates in Lowell, Florida. It came to her attention that many of the women in that prison were there because they had been trafficked over the years, and the subject was of great interest to her. She began to research the topic of human trafficking, and the name Jeffrey Epstein kept coming up, and so she decided to dig a little deeper.

That’s when she discovered this deal that was engineered in 2007 and 2008 by Mr. Acosta when he was the U.S. attorney. Concurrent with that, Mr. Acosta had been named as the labor secretary-designate by new President Trump. And she observed at his confirmation hearing that he got kid-glove treatment by virtually all of the lawmakers who were there to grill him, with one or two exceptions.

And so she decided to take a very deep dive into this topic, working with visual journalist Emily Michot, and the result was our series of stories called “Perversion of Justice.” And I believe that the result of that series was what we saw yesterday: the indictment of Mr. Epstein and finally some measure of justice, perhaps, for his many alleged victims.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, Casey Frank, about some of the communications that you uncovered, the internal communications, and also the role of Acosta directly in meeting with lawyers for Epstein, and the decision of his office, his prosecutors, to let this occur at the county level, in a county court, instead of in federal court.

CASEY FRANK: Right. Well, the communications you’re referring to are emails that were brought out during discovery from the various lawsuits that have occurred since the nonprosecution agreement was hammered out in 2008. And one of those lawsuits brought out emails between Mr. Epstein’s very powerful legal team and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern Florida. And what those emails showed was that the attorneys for Mr. Epstein were truly dictating the terms of this nonprosecution agreement. They were very friendly and solicitous emails. And as one of the lawyers representing the young women in this case observed at some point, this was a prosecution where the prosecutors and the—the police and the prosecutors both seemed to gang up against the victims. It was very curious, very unusual.

And as a part of that, Mr. Acosta held a private meeting with Mr. Epstein’s lead attorney in the fall of 2007 at a local Marriott in West Palm Beach, Florida. And at that meeting, the two men worked out the framework of the nonprosecution agreement, that was actually signed several months later. And as part of the agreement and as a part of those behind-the-scenes communications, it is clear that the attorneys for Mr. Epstein were insistent that the defendants not be told that this case was being settled, hence the young women could not show up in state court, where this was diverted back after the feds said they didn’t want to handle it anymore. The defendants were not told that the case was being settled. They couldn’t show up to object. And the agreement was sealed for several months, until lawyers went to court and got it unsealed. And here we are 10 years later.

AMY GOODMAN: And apparently this violated federal law, not telling the victims. I wanted to turn to Julie Brown herself, the reporter. We spoke to her earlier this year about her award-winning series exposing Epstein’s crimes. I asked her about Alex Acosta’s role in his case.

JULIE BROWN: At the time that this case popped up in West Palm Beach, you know, Epstein was very much affiliated with Democratic causes. He was friends with the Clintons. He had donated money to Governor Richardson in New Mexico, where he also owns a property. He had a lot of important friends on both sides of the political aisle, but, that said, he knew at the time that since it was a Republican administration and Acosta was a Republican, that it was very important that—you know, Epstein realized it was very important for him to hire lawyers that had Republican connections. …

And that’s essentially what he did. He hired people who knew Acosta and who Acosta looked up to. You know, Kenneth Starr, of course, was someone that Acosta would have looked up to. And so, I think it made it very hard for Alex Acosta to feel like he was going to go up against all these people.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s reporter Julie Brown, who broke the story leading to these indictments yesterday in Manhattan court. She’s talking about the Democrats and the Republicans.

President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, Angel Ureña, issued a statement Monday, reading, “President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York. In 2002 and 2003, President Clinton took a total of four trips on Jeffrey Epstein’s airplane: one to Europe, one to Asia, and two to Africa, which included stops in connection with the work of the Clinton Foundation. … He had one meeting with Epstein in his Harlem office in 2002, and around the same time made one brief visit to Epstein’s New York apartment with a staff member and his security detail. He’s not spoken to Epstein in well over a decade, and has never been to Little St. James Island, Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico, or his residence in Florida,” the Clinton spokesperson said.

So, Casey Frank, if you can talk about this relationship? I mean, it’s known that, I think, it’s believed, President Clinton took something like 20 trips on his planes, which I think Jeffrey Epstein himself called the “Lolita Express.” And also talk about his neighbor in Palm Beach, now President Trump, the relationship with Trump and Clinton.

CASEY FRANK: Well, clearly, people like the former president and the current president are going to be endeavoring to minimize any sort of contacts they might have had with Mr. Epstein over the years. And I guess the truth will possibly come out during court proceedings moving forward. Clearly, Mr. Epstein had a friendly social relationship with President Trump before he was the president. And clearly, he had a relationship of trust with the former president, which sort of got entangled with the former president’s foundation. And I believe he may have also donated funds to Mr. Trump’s foundation.

And it will be interesting to see whether those who have received large amounts of money from Mr. Epstein might be deciding to return some of that money in the future. One institution that comes to mind is Harvard University, which has received millions of dollars from Mr. Epstein. I would expect that a lot of people who were friendly with Jeffrey Epstein, who visited his house, who received money, campaign contributions from Mr. Epstein, are going to be running in the opposite direction in the coming weeks and months.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, in terms of Acosta and his first time before the Senate—as you say, he was treated with kid gloves. Do you expect any further questioning of his role in Congress?

CASEY FRANK: I would, although I’ve been surprised so far that he really hasn’t been brought in and grilled on the thinking that went into this nonprosecution agreement. In the past, when he’s spoken of it—and he’s spoken of it very little—he said, “I was dealt a very weak hand. The victims would not have made good witnesses, and the defense team that we were up against was incredibly powerful,” which doesn’t seem like a very strong argument when you’re part of the U.S. Justice Department. But what’s more puzzling to me and to many others is that he has said this was a good deal, and yet he went along with the idea of keeping the deal secret. And if it was such a good deal, I don’t know why he wouldn’t have been touting what a good deal it was afterward and saying exactly why.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, when Epstein was jailed in Palm County jail, many didn’t even know he was in jail for the 13 months, because he was allowed to go to his office every day, and he would then come back to the jail, apparently alone in an entire wing of this jail. But talking about his lawyers and friends, I wanted to turn to—Epstein’s arrest has many of those high-profile friends and protectors on high alert. One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, says Epstein trafficked her to his friends for sex, including high-profile lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who has vehemently denied the claims. This is Dershowitz being questioned by Abby Huntsman on The View in April.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I don’t allow my personal interests and values to intrude on my professional life. I think of myself like a doctor or a priest. If they wheel somebody, Jeffrey Epstein, into the emergency ward, the doctor is going to take care of him. If he goes to his rabbi and says, “I want to make a confession,” the rabbi is going to say, “Yes, I want to help you.”

ABBY HUNTSMAN: You’re now being sued by one of the women who was involved in that original investigation—

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: That’s right.

ABBY HUNTSMAN: —of Epstein. Virginia Roberts is her name, who claims that Epstein lent her out for sex to some of his friends, including you, when she was underage. You’ve been very vocal in your denials. Now she’s suing you for defamation, saying you’re falsely attacking her, trying to intimidate her into silence. You’ve said that you welcome this lawsuit.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I do, yeah. I want—

ABBY HUNTSMAN: You want to take it on. Why?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: And I also welcome her coming on this show and accusing me face to face. She has never accused me except under the protection of the litigation privilege.

AMY GOODMAN: This week, The View co-host Ana Navarro-Cárdenas tweeted that Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta should be fired, offering Epstein a plea deal that kept him out of prison for life. Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown responded, tweeting, “Your colleagues at the View owe it to Epstein’s victims to have their POV on the show. Having Alan Dershowitz on without giving the their point of view only serves to silence other victims. @TheView @WhoopiGoldberg your show is crucial in reaching out to victims.” Casey Frank, if you could respond to this? And we’ll end with a clip that the Miami Herald put out of some of those victims.

CASEY FRANK: Well, Mr. Dershowitz has been very loud in vehemently denying Ms. Giuffre’s accusations. And I have talked to Mr. Dershowitz, and I’ve heard those denials personally. He did say in that clip that he welcomed the lawsuit, but this past month he also filed to get the lawsuit dismissed, so I’m a bit puzzled about that. I guess the chips will fall where they may as testimony comes out in Mr. Epstein’s upcoming trial.

Now, I will say that the Miami Herald has gone to court and sought to unseal some of the sealed documents in one of the ongoing—or, one of the closed lawsuits, I should say. And last week, a judicial panel decided to release 2,000 pages, with possibly more to come. So we’re going to be learning a lot more about Mr. Epstein, his associates, his friends and his activities, I think, in the coming months.

AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly, the significance of Attorney General Barr recusing himself, saying he worked at Kirkland & Ellis. Jay Lefkowitz was one of Epstein’s attorneys. But also—isn’t being talked about as much, and he didn’t raise—his own father was the headmaster of the private school in New York, the Dalton School, and he hired Jeffrey Epstein many years ago. And what this could mean if something came out, not that there’s anything nefarious about that, but who knows if that was one of what he felt was his conflict of interest?

CASEY FRANK: Well, I don’t know what the significance of that is. I would say this, that I have some confidence in the Southern District of New York, and I’m impressed that they went out of their way to reopen this case, because it would have been much easier to just let it lie dormant, and they didn’t. And as journalists, we’re gratified when we see the work we do produce results.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with the video produced by the Miami Herald, where we hear the voices of some of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims describing what happened to them. The clip begins with Michael Reiter, who was Palm Beach police chief when Epstein first came under investigation for sex offenses.

MICHAEL REITER: The sheer volume of girls, the frequency—sometimes several or many in the same day—the age of the girls. In some cases, they were victims that didn’t know each other, had never met each other, but they had basically the same story.

MICHELLE LICATA: I remember there was a staircase. And it was like kind of like a spiral almost.

VIRGINIA ROBERTS: And she brings us up the stairs. And it was like spiral stairs.

COURTNEY WILD: You walked into his bedroom, around his bed, to almost like a very little hall, and then it was another door. And that’s where everything would happen, is in his bathroom. He would have a dresser, and it was filled with like—the first drawer was lotion, and then like the third drawer down was like sex toys. So, we would take the massage table out and set it up in the middle of the room.

JENA-LISA JONES: And then he came in with his white towel on around him.

MICHELLE LICATA: And then he just laid down in his towel on his stomach, and he was just talking to people on the phone. When he flipped over, that’s when he said, “OK, you can go ahead and take off your shirt and pants, but you can stay in your underwear.”

COURTNEY WILD: He would want us to stand next to him, and he would masturbate while he stared at us, touched us.

AMY GOODMAN: The video report produced by the Miami Herald, based on Julie Brown’s investigative reporting. Casey Frank, senior editor for investigations at the Miami Herald, thanks so much for being with us. He helped lead the paper’s coverage of Jeffrey Epstein.

When we come back, we go to Brazil to speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, who’s under investigation and death threat for exposing a massive political scandal involving Brazil’s justice minister, the former judge who jailed former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, paving the way for the election of President Jair Bolsonaro. Stay with us.

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