Many people were surprised yesterday when former President Bill Clinton finally made a public statement after over a decade on his relationship with convicted felon and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein was charged this week with sex trafficking and conspiracy. Clinton has long been connected with over two dozen flights on Epstein’s place, often called the “Lolita Express” for its reputation for underaged girls and orgies. Clinton also reportedly told the Secret Service not to accompany him on some flights with Epstein. Clinton now denies ever traveling without the Secret Service and claims that he only flew with Epstein four times on routine flights. Various people are challenging that account including the journalist, Conchita Sarnoff, who previously wrote on the flight logs and records showing Clinton’s trip.
Clinton’s spokesman, Angel Ureña, made the statement in a post on Twitter.
Sarnoff is now the executive director of Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking and the author of her book “Trafficking.” She directly called Clinton as “not telling the truth” on national television and said that flight logs directly contradict him: “I know from the pilot logs and these are pilot logs that you know were written by different pilots and at different times that Clinton went, he was a guest of Epstein’s 27 times . . . many of those times Clinton had his Secret Service with him and many times he did not.”
That leaves a starkly different factual account. This is not a matter of opinion. The question is whether Clinton, who has previously lied about his sexual controversies, will now sue for defamation. Either he took these flights with a known sexual predator or he did not. Either he knew of Epstein’s preying on young girls or he did not.
In this case, both Clinton and Sarnoff would be viewed a public figures under the “Actual Malice” standard. Over 50 years ago, the Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. Sullivan set the governing standard for public officials (and later extended to public figures) in suing critics. The Supreme Court recognized the danger of such civil liability in creating a chilling effect on reporters and their companies in the coverage of political figures. Imposing a high standard for proof of defamation, Justice William Brennan sought to give the free press “breathing space” to carry out its key function in our system. The “actual malice” standard requires a showing that the newspaper published a false report with either actual knowledge of its falsity or a reckless disregard of the truth.
In the past, logs have been shown with notations for Clinton and the Secret Service has refused to answer questions about those flights that do not list Secret Service agents onboard. Past accounts do not show trip to Epstein’s island home, which has been called “orgy island” by critics.
The much-delayed statement from Clinton could allow for the resolution of this question. It would be an easy thing to confirm the trips and particularly any exclusion of the Secret Service detail. If Clinton is telling the truth, it is bizarre that he would wait this long after widespread accounts of these trips. If he is not, the public should know the truth.