“Please allow me to introduce myself; I’m a man of wealth and taste.”
– “Sympathy for the Devil,” The Rolling Stones
At the expense of being a spoilsport, a modest prediction: When all is said and done, the celebrity fallout from the evidence the FBI seized from sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein’s New York townhouse will prove disappointing to conspiracy theorists of every persuasion.
No Donald Trump, no Bill Clinton, pretty much nobody you’ve ever heard of except in connection with the Miami Herald’s excellent reporting on the case. But of course, both men are in Epstein’s “little black book.” A social climber like him collects phone numbers the way boys used to collect baseball cards.
It means they attended the same fundraisers. The end. But donate $10,000 to redecorate the White House and, yeah, you’ll get invited to a reception there. Until you get arrested. Then you no longer exist.
Perverts can be so naive.
The source of Epstein’s millions always has been a mystery. Some speculate that he’s been running an extortion racket, photographing wealthy individuals in “honey traps” baited with underage girls and then pressuring them to invest in offshore financial scams.
Or maybe it’s something as simple as straight-up blackmail. You wouldn’t want your wife, your ex-wife’s lawyer, your board of directors or your friendly hometown newspaper editor to see these photos, now would you?
“For decades,” reported New York magazine, “Epstein has been credulously described as a big-time hedge-fund manager and a billionaire, even though there’s not a lot of evidence that he is either.” Knowledgeable Wall Streeters told the magazine nobody they knew has ever traded with his company. Most leaned toward the blackmail/extortion explanation, although none claimed to know. Epstein’s long-time relationship with Victoria’s Secret tycoon Leslie H. Wexner has provoked the most speculation. Now 81 and not talking, the Ohio billionaire signed over power of attorney to Epstein back in 1991 – essentially ceding control of his retail and real estate empire to the mystery man from Brooklyn, utterly mystifying family and friends.
The Times reported that, “Wexner authorized him to borrow money on his behalf, to sign his tax returns, to hire people and to make acquisitions. Over the years, Mr. Epstein obtained a New York mansion, a private plane and a luxury estate in Ohio – today valued at about $100 million all together – previously owned by Mr. Wexner or his companies.”
The Manhattan townhouse where FBI agents found Epstein’s safe filled with naked photos of teenaged girls once belonged to Wexner. Epstein simply signed the property over to himself. Another time, Wexner bought one of his own former properties back from Epstein, who used the proceeds to buy a small island in the U.S. Virgin Islands that became his primary residence. Supposedly, he paid underaged girls to sit naked around the pool there.
Ah, but regardless of what you may have read on your dentist’s Facebook page, there’s no evidence that either Clinton or Trump has ever been there.
After the recent FBI bust, the former president’s office put out a statement: “In 2002 and 2003, President Clinton took a total of four trips on Jeffrey Epstein’s airplane: one to Europe, one to Asia, and two to Africa, which included stops in connection with the work of the Clinton Foundation.” Each trip included several flights, with takeoffs and landings for each city visited, plus fuel stops.
Foundation staff and Secret Service agents accompanied him everywhere. The statement added that Clinton has “not spoken to Epstein in well over a decade, and has never been to Little St. James Island, Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico, or his residence in Florida.” It would appear that somebody clued Clinton in on the “Lolita Express” business, and he dropped Epstein cold before his 2008 Florida guilty plea.
It’s their categorical nature that makes these denials persuasive. Clinton’s not known for telling big, dumb lies where clever double-talk will do.
Trump, of course, rather specializes in big, dumb lies. Indeed, there are videos of him and Epstein eyeballing a roomful of dancing Buffalo Bills cheerleaders like two fraternity boys. Back in 2002, he bragged to a Vanity Fair reporter about their friendship.
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Trump booms from a speakerphone. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
A barbed compliment at best. It would appear that Trump, too, knew the score and kept his distance. Indeed, author James Patterson, whose 2017 book “Filthy Rich” excoriates Epstein, reported that Trump banished him from Mar-a-Lago because he pestered young girls, whose families complained. Detectives Patterson hired could find no compromising information against either Trump or Clinton. Moral considerations aside, name-brand politicians such as Clinton and Trump go everywhere with bodyguards and minders tasked with keeping them out of sticky situations.
Money well spent, it seems.
• Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.