It is time to uncover all the hidden secrets in the sordid matter of Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy sex offender with a stable of high-placed friends. Pull up the floorboards and see what slithers or scurries into the light. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York City can lead the way.
At issue is a lawsuit filed by the Miami Herald and supported by a multitude of press groups, including The Washington Post. The suit asks that records be unsealed in one of the many tangled strands of Epstein’s legal saga. Again and again, unusual secrecy protects Epstein and his jet-setting circle. His victims, meanwhile, have been deceived and bullied. But never heard in open court.
Woven by a dream team of expensive lawyers, Epstein’s web of secrets has been unraveling since the Herald’s Julie Brown disclosed last year the hidden machinations by former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta that let Epstein plead guilty in 2008 to relatively minor offenses. Palm Beach police gathered extensive evidence that the financier molested dozens of underage girls. When girls protested his abuse, Epstein allegedly paid them to recruit other children for his frequent “massage” sessions. Rather than face life in prison, Epstein served a relatively short sentence in a Palm Beach County jail, where friendly authorities allowed him to come and go during the day.
Years after the damage was done, a federal judge ruled last month that prosecutors — including Acosta, who is now secretary of labor — broke the law when they struck that deal. By keeping Epstein’s alleged victims in the dark, and leading them to believe that Epstein would be prosecuted vigorously, Acosta’s team violated their legal rights to be informed.
Meanwhile, the Herald’s appeal in New York has slowly ripened. The newspaper asks that records of a settled lawsuit be unsealed so the public can understand what happened when British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell — accused of acting as one of Epstein’s procurers — paid “millions” (according to the Herald) to Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who says she was victimized by the pair. Maxwell called Giuffre a “liar.” But when Giuffre sued for defamation, rather than air the charges in court, Maxwell paid Giuffre, asked to seal the record and even tried but, thankfully, failed to have the case files destroyed.
All of it needs to come out. Everything. The Justice Department has opened a review of Acosta’s conduct. But a better path would be for Congress to authorize an investigation by the department’s inspector general.
For example: What do the FBI and Justice Department know about the strange failure of New York’s district attorney to vigorously investigate alleged sex trafficking at Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse and “modeling agency”? What have the feds heard about Epstein’s conduct at his New Mexico ranch and aboard his private jet? Has there been any contact with law enforcement in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Epstein owns a private compound visited by the likes of former President Bill Clinton and numerous rich-guy moguls?
Will innocent friends of Epstein be muddied? Maybe. They have only themselves to blame, for this man’s character has been known among his social set for many years. As President Donald Trump said of the alleged serial child molester as far back as 2002: “I’ve known Jeff for 15 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.”
After Giuffre’s case files are opened, let the files of other settled Epstein-related lawsuits be opened, too. What secrets inspired the payment of untold millions of dollars to keep them hidden? Open them all. Open everything.
This entire business stinks. And though we cannot undo this perversion of justice in favor of the rich and powerful, that doesn’t mean the American people must tolerate it. Air out the whole ugly mess so that no victimized children will be so easily ignored again.
David Von Drehle is a columnist with The Washington Post.