The Jeffrey Epstein case is notable for the ups and downs in media coverage it’s gotten over the years. Everybody, it seems, in New York society knew by 2000 that Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell were corrupting teenage girls, but the press wouldn’t cover it. Articles by New York in 2002 and Vanity Fair in 2003 alluded to it gently, while probing Epstein’s finances more closely. In 2005, the Palm Beach police investigated. The county prosecutor, Democrat Barry Krischer, wouldn’t prosecute for more than prostitution, so they went to the federal prosecutor, Republican Alexander Acosta, and got the FBI involved. Acosta’s office prepared an indictment, but before it was filed, he made a deal: Epstein agreed to plead guilty to a state law felony and receive a prison term of 18 months. In exchange, the federal interstate sex trafficking charges would not be prosecuted by Acosta’s office. Epstein was officially at the county jail for 13 months, where the county officials under Democratic Sheriff Ric Bradshaw gave him scandalously easy treatment, letting him spend his days outside, and letting him serve a year of probation in place of the last 5 months of his sentence. Acosta’s office complained, but it was a county jail, not a federal jail, so he was powerless.
Epstein was released, and various lawsuits were filed against him and settled out of court, presumably in exchange for silence. The media was quiet or complimentary as Epstein worked his way back into high society. Two books were written about the affair, and fell flat. The FBI became interested again around 2011 (a little known fact) and maybe things were happening behind the scenes, but the next big event was in 2018 when the Miami Herald published a series of investigative articles rehashing what had happened. In 2019 federal prosecutors indicted Epstein, he was put in jail, and he mysteriously died. Now, after much complaining in the press about how awful jails are and how many people commit suicide, things are quiet again, at least until the Justice Department and the State of Florida finish their investigation a few years from now. (For details and more links, see “Investigation: Jeffrey Epstein”at Medium.com and “Jeffrey Epstein” at Wikipedia.)
I’m an expert in the field of “game theory”, strategic thinking. What would I do if I were Epstein? I’d try to get the President, the Attorney-General, or the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York to shut down the investigation before it went public. I’d have all my friends and all my money try to pressure them. If it failed and I were arrested, it would be time for the backup plan— the Deal. I’d try to minimize my prison time, and, just as important, to be put in one of the nicer federal prisons where I could associate with financial wizards and drug lords instead of serial killers, black nationalists, and people with bad breath.
That’s what Epstein would do. What about the powerful people Epstein would turn in to get his deal? They aren’t as smart as Epstein, but they would know the Deal was coming— that Epstein would be quite happy to sacrifice them in exchange for a prison with a slightly better golf course. What could they do? There’s only one good option— to kill Epstein, and do it quickly, before he could start giving information samples to the U. S. Attorney.
Trying to kill informers is absolutely routine in the mafia, or indeed, for gangs of any kind. The reason people call such talk “conspiracy theories” when it comes to Epstein is that his friends are WASPs and Jews, not Italians and Mexicans. But WASPs and Jews are human too. They want to protect themselves. Famous politicians, unlike gangsters, don’t have full-time professional hit men on their staffs, but that’s just common sense—politicians rarely need hit men, so it makes more sense to hire them on a piecework basis than as full-time employees. How would they find hit men? You or I wouldn’t know how to start, but it would be easy for them. Rich powerful people have bodyguards. Bodyguards are for defense, but the guys who do defense know guys who do offense. And Epstein’s friends are professional networkers. One reporter said of Ghislaine Maxwell, “Her Rolodex would blow away almost anyone else’s I can think of—probably even Rupert Murdoch’s.” They know people who know people. Maybe I’m six degrees of separation from a mafia hit man, but not Ghislaine Maxwell. I bet she knows at least one mafioso personally who knows more than one hit man.
In light of this, it would be very surprising if someone with a spare \$50 million to spend to solve the Epstein problem didn’t give it a try. A lot of people can be bribed for \$50 million. Thus, we should have expected to see bribery attempts. If none were detected, it must have been because prison workers are not reporting they’d been approached.
Some people say that government incompetence is always a better explanation than government malfeasance. That’s obviously wrong— when an undeserving business gets a contract, it’s not always because the government official in charge was just not paying attention. I can well believe that prisons often take prisoners off of suicide watch too soon, have guards who go to sleep and falsify records, remove cellmates from prisoners at risk of suicide or murder, let the TV cameras watching their most important prisoners go on the blink, and so forth. But that cuts both ways. Remember, in the case of Epstein, we’d expect a murder attempt whether the warden of the most important federal jail in the country is competent or not. If the warden is incompetent, we should expect that murder attempt to succeed. Murder becomes all the more more plausible. Instead of spending \$50 million to bribe 20 guards and the warden, you just pay some thug \$30,000 to walk in past the snoring guards, open the cell door, and strangle the sleeping prisoner, no fancy James Bond necessary. Or, if you can hire a New York Times reporter for \$30,000 (as Epstein famously did a couple of years ago), you can spend \$200,000 on a competent hit man to make double sure. Government incompetence does not lend support to the suicide theory; quite the opposite.
Now to my questions.
- Why is nobody blaming the Florida and New York state prosecutors for not prosecuting Epstein and others for statutory rape?
Statutory rape is not a federal crime, so it is not something the Justice Dept. is supposed to investigate or prosecute. They are going after things like interstate sex trafficking. Interstate sex trafficking is generally much harder to prove than statutory rape, which is very easy if the victims will testify.
At any time from 2008 to the present, Florida and New York prosecutors could have gone after Epstein and easily convicted him. The federal nonprosecution agreement did not bind them. And, of course, it is not just Epstein who should have been prosecuted. Other culprits such as Prince Andrew are still at large.
Note that if even if the evidence is just the girl’s word against Ghislaine Maxwell’s or Prince Andrew’s, it’s still quite possible to get a jury to convict. After all, who would you believe, in a choice between Maxwell, Andrew, and Anyone Else in the World? For an example of what can be done if the government is eager to convict, instead of eager to protect important people, see the 2019 Cardinal Pell case in Australia. He was convicted by the secret testimony of a former choirboy, the only complainant, who claimed Pell had committed indecent acts during a chance encounter after Mass before Pell had even unrobed. Naturally, the only cardinal to be convicted of anything in the Catholic Church scandals is also the one who’s done the most to fight corruption. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to prosecute. It’s even easier to convict someone if he’s actually guilty.
- Why isn’t anybody but Ann Coulter talking about Barry Krischer and Ric Bradshaw, the Florida state prosecutor and sheriff who went easy on Epstein, or the New York City police who let him violate the sex offender regulations?
Krischer refused to use the evidence the Palm Beach police gave him except to file a no-jail-time prostitution charge (they eventually went to Acosta, the federal prosecutor, instead, who got a guilty plea with an 18-month sentence). Bradshaw let him spend his days at home instead of at jail. In New York State, the county prosecutor, Cyrus Vance, fought to prevent Epstein from being classified as a Level III sex offender. Once he was, the police didn’t enforce the rule that required him to check in every 90 days.
- How easy would it have been to prove in 2016 or 2019 that Epstein and his people were guilty of federal sex trafficking?
Not easy, I should think. It wouldn’t be enough to prove that Epstein debauched teenagers. Trafficking is a federal offense, so it would have to involve commerce across state lines. It also must involve sale and profit, not just personal pleasure. The 2019 indictment is weak on this. The “interstate commerce” looks like it’s limited to Epstein making phone calls between Florida and New York. This is why I am not completely skeptical when former U.S. Attorney Acosta says that the 2008 nonprosecution deal was reasonable. He had strong evidence the Epstein violated Florida state law— but that wasn’t relevant. He had to prove violations of federal law.
- Why didn’t Epstein ask the Court, or the Justice Dept., for permission to have an unarmed guard share his cell with him?
Epstein had no chance at bail without bribing the judge, but this request would have been reasonable. That he didn’t request a guard is, I think, the strongest evidence that he wanted to die. If he didn’t commit suicide himself, he was sure making it easy for someone else to kill him.
- Could Epstein have used the safeguard of leaving a trove of photos with a friend or lawyer to be published if he died an unnatural death?
Well, think about it— Epstein’s lawyer was Alan Dershowitz. If he left photos with someone like Dershowitz, that someone could earn a lot more by using the photos for blackmail himself than by dutifully carrying out his perverted customer’s instructions. The evidence is just too valuable, and Epstein was someone whose friends weren’t the kind of people he could trust. Probably not even his brother.
- Who is in danger of dying next?
Prison workers from guard to warden should be told that if they took bribes, their lives are now in danger. Prison guards may not be bright enough to realize this. Anybody who knows anything important about Epstein should be advised to publicize their information immediately. That is the best way to stay alive. This is not like a typical case where witnesses get killed so they won’t testify. It’s not like with gangsters. Here, the publicity and investigative lead is what is most important, because these are reputable and rich offenders for whom publicity is a bigger threat than losing in court. They have very good lawyers, and probably aren’t guilty of federal crimes anyway, just state crimes, in corrupt states where they can use clout more effectively. Thus, killing potential informants before they tell the public is more important than killing informants to prevent their testimony at trial, a much more leisurely task.
- What happened to Epstein’s body?
The Justice Dept. had better not have let Epstein’s body be cremated. And they’d better give us convincing evidence that it’s his body. If I had \$100 million to get out of jail with, acquiring a corpse and bribing a few people to switch fingerprints and DNA wouldn’t be hard. I find it worrying that the government has not released proof that Epstein is dead or a copy of the autopsy.
- Was Epstein’s jail really full of mice?
The New York Times says,
“Beyond its isolation, the wing is infested with rodents and cockroaches, and inmates often have to navigate standing water — as well as urine and fecal matter — that spills from faulty plumbing, accounts from former inmates and lawyers said. One lawyer said mice often eat his clients’ papers.”
“Often have to navigate standing water”? “Mice often eat his clients’ papers?” Really? I’m skeptical. What do the vermin eat— do inmates leave Snickers bars open in their cells? Has anyone checked on what the prison conditions really like?
- Is it just a coincidence that Epstein made a new will two days before he died?
I can answer this one. Yes, it is coincidence, though it’s not a coincidence that he rewrote the will shortly after being denied bail. The will leaves everything to a trust, and it is the trust document (which is confidential), not the will (which is public), that determines who gets the money. Probably the only thing that Epstein changed in his will was the listing of assets, and he probably changed that because he’d just updated his list of assets for the bail hearing anyway, so it was a convenient time to update the will.
- Did Epstein’s veiled threat against DOJ officials in his bail filing backfire?
Epstein’s lawyers wrote in his bail request,
“If the government is correct that the NPA does not, and never did, preclude a prosecution in this district, then the government will likely have to explain why it purposefully delayed a prosecution of someone like Mr. Epstein, who registered as a sex offender 10 years ago and was certainly no stranger to law enforcement. There is no legitimate explanation for the delay.”
I see this as a veiled threat. The threat is that Epstein would subpoena people and documents from the Justice Department relevant to the question of why there was a ten-year delay before prosecution, to expose the illegitimate explanation for the delay. Somebody is to blame for that delay, and court-ordered disclosure is a bigger threat than an internal federal investigation.
- Who can we trust?
Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is the only government official who is clearly trustworthy, because he could have stopped the 2019 Epstein indictment and he didn’t. I don’t think Attorney-General Barr could have blocked it, and I don’t think President Trump could have except by firing Berman. I do trust Attorney-General Barr, however, from what I’ve heard of him and because he instantly and publicly said he would have not just the FBI but the Justice Dept. Inspector-General investigate Epstein’s death, and he quickly fired the federal prison head honcho. The FBI is untrustworthy, but Inspector-Generals are often honorable.
Someone else who may be a hero in this is Senator Ben Sasse. Vicki Ward writes in the Daily Beast:
“It was that heart-wrenching series that caught the attention of Congress. Ben Sasse, the Republican senator from Nebraska, joined with his Democratic colleagues and demanded to know how justice had been so miscarried.
Given the political sentiment, it’s unsurprising that the FBI should feel newly emboldened to investigate Epstein—basing some of their work on Brown’s excellent reporting.”
- Will President Trump Cover Up Epstein’s Death in Exchange for Political Leverage?
President Trump didn’t have anything personally to fear from Epstein. He is too canny to have gotten involved with him, and the press has been eagerly at work to find the slightest connection between him and Epstein and have come up dry as far as anything but acquaintanceship. But we must worry about a cover-up anyway, because rich and important people would be willing to pay Trump a lot in money or, more likely, in political support, if he does a cover-up.
- Why did Judge Sweet order Epstein documents sealed in 2017. Did he die naturally in 2019?
Judge Robert Sweet in 2017 ordered all documents in an Epstein-related case sealed. He died in May 2019 at age 96, at home in Idaho. The sealing was completely illegal, as the appeals court politely but devastatingly noted in 2019, and the documents were released a day or two before Epstein died. Someone should check into Judge Sweet’s finance and death. He was an ultra-Establishment figure— a Yale man, alas, like me, and Taft School— so he might just have been protecting what he considered good people, but his decision to seal the court records was grossly improper.
- Did Epstein have any dealings in sex, favors, or investments with any Republican except Wexner?
Dershowitz, Mitchell, Clinton, Richardson, Dubin, George Stephanopolous, Lawrence Krauss, Katie Couric, Mortimer Zuckerman, Chelsea Handler, Cyrus Vance, and Woody Allen, are all Democrats. Did Epstein ever make use of Republicans? Don’t count Trump, who has not been implicated despite the media’s best efforts and was probably not even a Republican back in the 90’s. Don’t count Ken Starr– he’s just one of Epstein’s lawyers. Don’t count scientists who just took money gifts from him. (By the way, Epstein made very little in the way of political contributions, though that little went mostly to Democrats (\$139,000 vs. \$18,000. I bet he extracted more from politicians than he gave to them.
- What role did Israeli politician Ehud Barak play in all this?
Remember Marc Rich? He was a billionaire who fled the country to avoid a possible 300 years prison term, and was pardoned by Bill Clinton in 2001. Ehud Barak, one of Epstein’s friends, was one of the people who asked for Rich to be pardoned. Epstein, his killers, and other rich people know that as a last resort they can flee the country and wait for someone like Clinton to come to office and pardon them.
Acosta said that Washington Bush Administration people told him to go easy on Epstein because he was an intelligence source. That is plausible. Epstein had info and blackmailing ability with people like Ehud Barak, leader of Israel’s Labor Party. But “intelligence” is also the kind of excuse people make up so they don’t have to say “political pressure.”
- Why did nobody pay attention to the two 2016 books on Epstein?
James Patterson and John Connolly published Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal that Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein. Conchita Sarnoff published TrafficKing: The Jeffrey Epstein Case. I never heard of these before 2019. Did the media bury them?
- Which newspapers reported Epstein’s death as “suicide” and which as “apparent suicide”?
More generally, which media outlets seem to be trying to brush Epstein’s death under the rug? There seems to have been an orchestrated attempt to divert attention to the issue of suicides in prison. Subtle differences in phrasing might help reveal who’s been paid off. National Review had an article, “The Conspiracy Theories about Jeffrey Epstein’s Death Don’t Make Much Sense.” The article contains no evidence or argument to support the headline’s assertion, just bluster about “madness” and “conspiracy theories”. Who else publishes stuff like this?
- How much did Epstein corrupt the media from 2008 to 2019?
Even outlets that generally publish good articles must be suspected of corruption. Epstein made an effort to get good publicity. The New York Times wrote,
“The effort led to the publication of articles describing him as a selfless and forward-thinking philanthropist with an interest in science on websites like Forbes, National Review and HuffPost….
All three articles have been removed from their sites in recent days, after inquiries from The New York Times….
The National Review piece, from the same year, called him “a smart businessman” with a “passion for cutting-edge science.”…
Ms. Galbraith was also a publicist for Mr. Epstein, according to several news releases promoting Mr. Epstein’s foundations… In the article that appeared on the National Review site, she described him as having “given thoughtfully to countless organizations that help educate underprivileged children.”
“We took down the piece, and regret publishing it,” Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review since 1997, said in an email. He added that the publication had “had a process in place for a while now to weed out such commercially self-interested pieces from lobbyists and PR flacks.””
The New York Times was, to its credit, willing to embarrass other publications by 2019. But the Times itself had been part of the cover-up in previous years. Who else was?
Eric Rasmusen is an economist who has held an endowed chair at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and visiting positions at Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, the Harvard Economics Department, Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Nuffield College/Oxford, and the University of Tokyo Economics Department. He is best known for his book Games and Information. He has published extensively in law and economics, including recent articles on the burakumin outcastes in Japan, the use of game theory in jurisprudence, and quasi-concave functions. The views expressed here are his personal views and are not intended to represent the views of the Kelley School of Business or Indiana University. His vitae is at http://www.rasmusen.org/vita.htm .