Within minutes of news about his death in a Manhattan jail cell Saturday morning, theories spread with pestilential vigour. Was Jeffrey Epstein murdered? Accepting the premise without qualification, the next question followed: Who did it? MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was not giving anyone time to wonder. “A guy who had information that would have destroyed rich and powerful men’s lives end up dead in his jail cell. How predictably…Russian.”
There had been a potential trigger: the unsealing of documents by a Federal court from a lawsuit by one of Epstein’s accusers directed against socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, the woman behind the man behind the women. In 2017, Virginia Giuffre, who had accused Maxwell of procuring young girls for sexual abuse by Epstein, settled. The depositions were duly salacious, linking the procurement to the Epstein circle, which, by all accounts, was rather large. Specific to Giuffre were claims that Maxwell had issued her instructions “to serve”, amongst others, Britain’s Prince Andrew, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and scientist Marvin Minsky.
Epstein was the insider mogul, a deeply connected, even embedded figure holding the confidences of the rich and powerful even as he pampered them. Having become a sordid archive of sorts, to have him accused of trafficking in underage sex was a powerful incentive for the narrative of silence to charge forth on an unruly stead. To have the Epstein largesse was to have its taint. And in Donald Trump’s USA, the conspiracy machine furnishes the means of settling scores and scuttling accounts; never mind the facts, those silly little things that tend to be bound up in order to die in isolation.
Anyone involved with Epstein in any intimate way could hardly have denied that sinister gothic element to his life, itself sketchy about details as college dropout, high school teacher in Manhattan and money manager. What proved striking was a pseudo-intellectual leaning in his circle: the need for a permanently horny financier to be with the bright in order to arrive at some justification for, as Andrew O’Hagan observed, “personally impregnating countless women”.
His home on East 71st Street in New York sported a stone satyr over a fifteen-foot front door leading to a home with décor “of the Gothic Quagmire school”. When he sparked interest in the authorities – of the unhealthy type – he tended to wriggle out of it, using heavy artillery lawyers to do his bidding. Operation Leap Year, conducted by the FBI over a period of 14 months some twelve years ago, found evidence that 34 underage girls had been solicited by Epstein. Not so, claimed the Alan Dershowitz-led team: the girls were not underage. A “non-prosecution” agreement was struck, allowing Epstein to escape incarceration.
The details, since released, show that Dershowitz convinced Miami prosecutors that Epstein could avoid federal charges provided he owned up to two counts of soliciting, one of them being with a minor. Immunity would also be provided for “any potential co-conspirators”. Epstein’s accusers were not to be informed of this nasty jigging of the legal system, a point in clear violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. (The legal eagle soaring over the proceedings, it should also be said, had been accused by Giuffre of being one of the Epstein inner circle she was to sexually service.)
Such a resume has commanded much suspicion in terms of timing and result. New York mayor Bill de Blasio deemed it “way too convenient”. To reporters, he asked what Epstein could possibly have known. “How many other millionaires and billionaires were part of the illegal activities that he was engaged in?” In the social media scape, facts were already being killed off as rapidly as they were conceived.
President Donald Trump relished a chance to muck in, retweeting a post by comedian and commentator Terrence K. Williams sceptical about the “24/7 suicide watch”. Here was a chance to aim a few blows at his old sparring partners, the Clintons. The rancid smell of dough and sex from the fictional paedophile rings associated with “Pizzagate” in 2016 had reappeared. “#JeffreyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead.”
That whole matter was preceded by a retweet of a post by BNL News: “BREAKING: Documents were unsealed yesterday revealing that top Democrats, including Bill Clinton, took private trips to Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘pedophilia land’.” The president felt in the pink of things, launching thick salvos against the media he regarded as “lamestream”. “Think how wonderful it is to be able to fight back and show, to so many, how totally dishonest the Fake News Media really is. It may be the most corrupt disgusting business (almost) there is!”
Clinton spokesman and press secretary Angel Ureña added to the news cycle with a statement that, “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.”
The Daily Beast indulged a scenario in mocking fashion. Perhaps that other part of the Clinton duo, Hillary, “performed a flawless HALO parachute jump onto the roof of the Manhattan Correctional Center, rappelled down the elevator shaft”, in the process infiltrating cell, killing Epstein and making off “with her blonde hair perfectly in place and not a single stain on her tactical pantsuit”.
Not wishing to be outdone, anti-Trump tweets have aggressively followed in the wake of claims that the Clintons were intent on silencing Epstein, leaving, along the way, a good number of corpses. The hashtag #TrumpBodyCount was a response as measured as that of #ClintonBodyCount.
Epstein’s death is being covered, interpreted and heaved over in a scattergun environment resistant to news. Any news account must, by its Trump inflected nature, be a set-up, a contrivance, a concoction of power. “He reportedly tried to kill himself two weeks ago,” snorts Scarborough. “And is allowed to finish the job now? Bullshit.”
This leaves such questions as those posed by O’Hagan in the London Review of Books lukewarm in their intensity, however sensible they might seem. “When guilty men kill themselves, are they acknowledging their guilt, or is it more like an act of self-pity?” Epstein’s suicide terminated “a judicial process that he spent millions to disdain”; it also negated a life in prison he sought to avert. Any answers found by the Metropolitan Correctional Center (New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants “lots of them”) are bound to fall short in the current milieu of celebrated pandemonium.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: email@example.com