If we learned anything from the UVA rape story, it’s that serious allegations of rape still have to be backed up by evidence. Wednesday, Buzzfeed looked for “hard evidence” connecting Bill Clinton to billionaire sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein and found it lacking.
Buzzfeed deserves credit for taking the question of Clinton’s involvement with Epstein seriously, especially since most news organizations don’t seem to have bothered. Still, there are some problems with the piece which are worth pointing out.
One of the problems is that it is a bit too bloodless to really convey the topic at hand. Buzzfeed’s Ken Bensinger alludes to the disturbing details of Epstein’s personal life but doesn’t spend much time presenting them to his readers.
Police reports entered into the record go into stomach-wrenching detail about Epstein’s alleged exploits with the girls and women he recruited and paid for massages that became sexual acts, and mention other women participating as well. Epstein’s longtime friend, the socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, is accused of taking part, while his personal assistant, Sarah Kellen, is described procuring young woman for him.
The piece does link to some of the “stomach-wrenching” detail, but most readers probably won’t see it. That’s a problem because after you read through some of those details, you realize Epstein wasn’t just an occasional offender, he was a predator who had created a kind of assembly line for abusing girls as young as fourteen.
Substantial evidence gathered during a year-long investigation by police shows that he and his associates lured girls to his house for “massages.” Epstein would generally ask the young girls to disrobe and, if they were too small to reach him on his massage table, he would ask them to straddle him. Later he would flip over and begin masturbating or grab sex toys to use on the young women. The “massage” was over when he ejaculated into a towel.
And like many sexual predators, Epstein appears to have had a sixth sense for girls who were vulnerable. One victim recently told Radar online that Epstein approached her at a summer camp he sponsored for aspiring singers and artists. As soon as he learned her father had died, he asked for her mother’s phone number so he could invite them to his home. The girl, who was 13 at the time, tells RadarOnline, “He made my mother feel like ‘Oh, he wants to me [sic] a mentor,’ and I didn’t have a father around and this would be such a nice person for my daughter to be around. That’s how it started. It’s really sort of preying on young girls coming from pseudo broken homes.”
Eventually, Epstein got in trouble when a 14-year-old victim (Jane Doe #1) mentioned her encounter with him to a friend in school. Word got around to administrators and eventually to her parents who called the police. In an interview the now-adult woman gave to a writer for the Daily Beast, she emphasized how young she was at the time saying, “I was a little shrimp, didn’t have boobs, and didn’t look 18 at all.”
The fact that Clinton was a good friend with someone like this, something Buzzfeed’s piece concedes, is a problem by itself. A 2002 pre-scandal profile of Epstein by New York magazine made clear the two men were more than acquaintances. After a private dinner with one of his favorite scientists, Epstein asked if he wanted to meet Clinton.
After dinner, Epstein asked if Nowak wanted to meet up with his new friend President Clinton, and off they went to a nearby deli, where Clinton regaled the starstruck former Oxford professor with tales from his own Oxford days.
Given the comfort level—just pals hanging out at a deli—it’s fair to ask how Clinton could have missed what Epstein’s private life was about. It’s not as if Epstein was hiding it. A 2007 piece in the same magazine (i.e. post-scandal) contained this highlight:
Those who know Epstein say he’s unfazed by his travails. “He’s totally open about his life: His life is about making money and living an erotic life, and his escape isn’t alcohol or drugs—it’s sex,” says a friend. “I was talking to him the other day, and he said to me that he was doing well and working steadily—between massages.”
Maybe there’s some way to parse this that doesn’t leave Clinton looking guilty in retrospect. But Buzzfeed doesn’t spend any time exploring it. In fact, the quote above isn’t mentioned in the piece. The suggestion is that, perhaps somehow, noted philanderer Clinton and massage enthusiast Epstein never got around to talking about anything other than AIDS research.
Do we really need “hard evidence” to think this scenario is unlikely? At what point does Clinton—whose friend Vernon Jordan once told Newsweek he and the President liked to “talk pu**y” on the golf course—not get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to behaving like a sleaze? This is akin to two well-known car thieves claiming they only talked about their mutual love of baking.
That’s another problem with the piece. Buzzfeed is demanding “hard evidence” Clinton was involved in the scandal but seems intent on looking for it where it is least likely to be found. In this passage, Epstein’s legally-immunized associates are offered as evidence on behalf of Clinton’s innocence.
Epstein’s longtime friend, the socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, is accused of taking part, while his personal assistant, Sarah Kellen, is described procuring young woman for him. But neither of those women has ever said a word about Clinton being involved.
You only need to keep reading to learn that Maxwell attended Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and Kellen has refused to do anything but plead the 5th. In other words, the women who were allegedly part of Epstein’s illegal behavior are still in his orbit (and Clinton’s). To switch metaphors, this is akin to taking the silence of a low-level mobster as proof that the don and his pals are all nice guys. At some point it should occur to Buzzfeed that without legal pressure to roll over on the higher ups—which doesn’t exist thanks to a 2008 agreement—these women have little motivation to speak up about anything they may have seen or done.
One woman who might be telling the truth is Virginia Roberts. She claims she became Epstein’s “sex slave” for a period of three years, flying with him on his private jet and engaging in orgies with him and his friends and assistants on his private island. Roberts is the woman who claims Epstein paid her to have sex with Alan Dershowitz and Prince Andrew. She is also the person who claims she had dinner with Epstein, Clinton, and a couple of young girls on Epstein’s private island.
Buzzfeed does point out that flight records from 2002 don’t seem to back up Roberts’ claims that Clinton visited Epstein’s island. However, attorneys for Roberts have argued that there are differences in two sets of flight records which suggest they are incomplete and may have been tampered with (something Buzzfeed doesn’t mention).
That’s not “hard proof” and it may even be reason for skepticism. As the UVA story taught everyone, even the worst stories need to be examined. Then again, Roberts has already offered a great deal more proof of her story to police and attorneys than Jackie, the woman in the UVA story, ever did. Is there a stained blue dress waiting in someone’s closet to force the issue beyond he said, she said? Maybe not this time. But given Clinton’s own well-documented history of bad behavior (something that also didn’t exist in the UVA case), maybe Roberts’ claims shouldn’t be dismissed too lightly.