Below is my column in USA Today on the lingering questions in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. These questions are likely to grow if the court overturns the conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell due to what appears to be exceptionally serious allegations of juror misconduct. Maxwell could end up with a second trial while various powerful men appear to have escaped any serious investigation, let alone a trial, on their alleged roles in such abuse.
Here is the column:
The conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell last week on five of six felony counts represented the first guilty verdict to come out of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal since his death. The question is whether it will be the last.
Maxwell was rightfully convicted as someone who was an enabler of sexual abuse, a craven figure convicted of enticing minors to travel and the transportation of a minor.
However, these girls were enticed and transported for a purpose and, quite possibly, for people other than Epstein.
The prosecution framed its case in terms of the transportation rather than the destination of the girls – and chose to limit the trial to just four of the victims. The trial offered insights into the bizarre relationship of Epstein and Maxwell, one sustained in part by Maxwell’s eagerness to fulfill Epstein’s demands for a steady stream of young girls.
Taste for human consumption
On one level, Epstein and Maxwell were embodiments of the conspicuous consumption culture we have seen in an array of criminal defendants, from Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chair Paul Manafort to the late Bernie Madoff.
However, Epstein and Maxwell found each other as soul mates in a mutual taste for human consumption. Where Manafort consumed $15,000 ostrich jackets, Epstein and Maxwell actively harvested children.
For Maxwell, unrestrained, unapologetic consumption was a matter of breeding from a pampered upbringing by her father, publishing tycoon (and fraudulent businessman) Robert Maxwell. For Epstein, it was a taste fueled by sexual and criminal addiction.
The Epstein-Maxwell alliance was forged by a deep corruption on every level, but that corruption was not limited to this despicable duo. Maxwell facilitated flights and travel to produce girls on trips attended by a list of the super elite. And Epstein allegedly used his stable of young girls as an enticement for powerful men.
The travel logs and guest records on Epstein’s trips read like a who’s who of the global elite. That by itself is not strange. The most elite in our society tend to flock together. What was notable is that these high-powered trips included teenage girls along with presidents and princes.
There are only two possibilities that arise from the records. First, that Epstein and Maxwell trafficked victims for only their own enjoyment.
Under this theory, young girls and women were transported to an island or homes with powerful men, but those men were interested only in the pleasure of Epstein’s company. They simply often traveled without their spouses or children.
Second, Epstein used what former President Trump called Epstein’s taste for “beautiful women on the younger side” to draw powerful friends into his circle of influence.
These trips are now largely public record, and the pictures are well known. Bill Clinton getting a massage from a 22-year-old woman in an airport in transit. Prince Andrew with his arm around a teenager in an Epstein home. Names from Donald Trump to Bill Gates have been associated with Epstein or his infamous flights on “The Lolita Express.” Clinton took 26 flights on Epstein’s plane, according to Fox News.
None of these pictures or records proves criminal acts or establishes which of the two scenarios is true. What they do create is an ample basis for investigation and formal questioning by the FBI.
Yet, with the exception of Prince Andrew, there is no public account of a formal investigation into those who were the possible beneficiaries of Epstein’s actions.
The history of the Justice Department’s involvement in the case magnifies these concerns. In 2007, Epstein faced a state investigation that found probable cause for at least four counts of unlawful sex with minors and one count of sexual abuse. He was the subject of a 53-page indictment that could have resulted in life in prison.
That is when the Justice Department struck a breathtaking plea agreement that effectively negated the claims of more than 40 minor girls (many between the ages of 13 and 17). Epstein pleaded guilty to Florida charges of felony solicitation of underage girls in 2008 and served a 13-month jail sentence.
The agreement violated federal law and the rights of the victims. Nevertheless, former U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta , who signed off on the agreement, was inexplicably made Labor secretary under Trump. He later resigned.
The special treatment did not end there. Epstein was not sent to state prison with other sex offenders. Instead, he was housed at the Palm Beach County Stockade and, after only several months, was allowed to leave on “work release” for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Willingness to investigate
Epstein reportedly had sex with at least one teenage girl, according to a lawsuit. Epstein was allowed to hire the deputies who guarded him on work release. According to reports, he was not locked in at night and a television was installed for his use.
In July 2019, Epstein was arrested again on sex trafficking charges. A month later, he was found dead in a New York jail cell. His death was ruled a suicide.
Many are wondering whether Maxwell will now name names or produce rumored tapes. It is not clear that she has such evidence to offer, but with 65years of potential time on sentencing, she has every reason to cooperate.
Prosecutors already have dozens of names of people who frequented Epstein’s homes and island. Critics of the prosecution say what is lacking isn’t the evidence but the willingness to investigate.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley