President Trump won’t be testifying, though lawyers in the case tried to depose him. President Bill Clinton won’t be there either, though he, like Trump, was an occasional guest of the man at the center of the trial, billionaire sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein.
Don’t expect to find Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in the courtroom in West Palm Beach, Fla., though his decision not to prosecute Epstein was a milestone in the twisting path toward the courtroom showdown that is finally supposed to begin Tuesday after nearly nine years of byzantine bickering.
Even Epstein himself, the prime figure in the legal battle, isn’t expected to show up; he’ll deliver his version of this epic by affidavit. Though the trial mainly will feature battalions of lawyers fighting over the actions of another set of lawyers, the case could offer a window into a sordid saga of sexual exploitation that includes many big names in American politics.
The ostensible focus of the trial is whether lawyers representing alleged victims of Epstein’s decades-long obsession with underage girls ginned up accusations of sexual molestation as part of an illegal scheme to lure investors.
But for Epstein, the trial is a chance to push back against and perhaps punish Bradley Edwards, the Florida lawyer who has represented several young women who say Epstein paid them for sex when they were teenagers.
“Epstein’s lawsuit is nothing but a blatant attempt to scare Brad off,” Edwards’s attorney, Jack Scarola, told The Washington Post on Monday. “Brad has spent a decade working to assure that Epstein will face appropriate criminal prosecution.”
An attorney for Epstein did not respond to a request for comment.
The Palm Beach trial, which is expected to last about 10 days, is a rare opportunity for dozens of women, now in their 20s and 30s, to make public their accounts of how they say Epstein abused them.
In 2008, Epstein — a legendary New York money manager who has lavish spreads in Manhattan, Palm Beach and on a Caribbean island he owns — pleaded guilty to a Florida state charge of felony solicitation of underage girls, for which he served a 13-month jail sentence. But to many of his accusers and critics, that was a light punishment compared with what he would have faced if federal prosecutors had been allowed to move ahead with a 53-page indictment they had drawn up.
“I do not believe Epstein will ever be held accountable,” said Conchita Sarnoff, the author of “TrafficKing,” a book on the Epstein case. “But this trial will show how he has been protected by powerful friends. The question remains: What is Epstein doing for them that they continued to protect him?”
Although the politicians and celebrities who visited Epstein’s mansions are not expected to testify, several of the young women who say they were offered to the rich and famous as sex partners at Epstein’s parties are likely to tell their stories. In an effort to keep the trial from getting too lurid, the judge has barred attorneys from “pejorative comments,” such as calling Epstein a “convicted child molester” or “a billionaire pedophile.”
According to an 82-page prosecution memo produced by the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami a decade ago, Epstein, with help from several female assistants, “would recruit underage females to travel to his home in Palm Beach to engage in lewd conduct in exchange for money . . . Some went there as much as 100 times or more. Some of the women’s conduct was limited to performing a topless or nude massage while Mr. Epstein masturbated himself. For other women, the conduct escalated to full sexual intercourse.”
But that case was shut down by then-U.S. Attorney Acosta, who in 2007 signed a non-prosecution deal in which he agreed to halt federal action against Epstein in exchange for Epstein pleading guilty to the state charge. Epstein also was required to register as a sex offender and to pay restitution to victims identified in the federal investigation.
“This agreement will not be made part of any public record,” the deal between Epstein and Acosta said. But it became public in 2015, when the document was unsealed by a federal judge in a civil lawsuit.
Years before Trump nominated him to be labor secretary, Acosta explained in a “To whom it may concern” letter that he had backed away from the Epstein case after “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors” by “an army of legal superstars” who represented Epstein, including Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, who had led the investigation that brought about Clinton’s impeachment.
“Defense counsel investigated individual prosecutors and their families, looking for personal peccadilloes,” Acosta wrote.
Dershowitz said no such probe into the lives of prosecutors ever happened. He said Acosta tried to nail Epstein but failed. Acosta’s “intention was to indict, and he fought hard and tried to get the best deal he could,” Dershowitz told The Post last year. “We outlawyered him.”
Acosta acknowledged in his letter that some prosecutors on his staff “felt that we should just go to trial, and at times I felt that frustration myself.” He said that Epstein “received highly unusual treatment while in jail,” including being permitted to work at home six days a week before returning to jail to sleep.
“The treatment that he received while in state custody undermined the purpose of a jail sentence,” Acosta said.
Former Palm Beach police chief Michael Reiter, whose department conducted the initial investigation into Epstein’s behavior, said in a deposition that Acosta’s decision not to prosecute “wasn’t an appropriate resolution of this matter.”
Acosta, whose name has come up as a possible successor to ousted attorney general Jeff Sessions, was questioned sharply about the Epstein case at his confirmation hearing last year; he was approved with a 60-to-38 Senate vote.
Over the past decade, as Epstein, 65, has remained a major donor to research facilities in medicine and artificial intelligence, some of the women who say he ruined their lives have filed lawsuits seeking to hold him responsible for allegedly abusing them.
Documents revealed in the lead-up to this week’s trial show that Epstein paid $5.5 million to settle with three of more than two dozen women who have sued him. Epstein’s lawyers have declined to say whether the billionaire made similar payments to settle any of the other lawsuits against him. In an investigation published last week, the Miami Herald reported that it had used court documents and other records to identify about 80 possible victims of Epstein.
At least two cases against Epstein are still pending, but other lawsuits were settled before the trial, frustrating some advocates for Epstein’s victims who want to see his actions fully come to light.
One woman, Virginia Giuffre, sued Epstein’s longtime friend Ghislaine Maxwell, who she said recruited her in 1999 from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club to be Epstein’s “sex slave,” starting with “massages” and moving to sex acts. Giuffre had worked at the club as a 15-year-old locker room towel girl. She settled with Maxwell last year.
In a different civil case against Epstein, records showed that he had attended parties at Mar-a-Lago and that Trump flew on Epstein’s private jet at least once. Trump told New York magazine in 2002 that Epstein was “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.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, another young woman, known in court records only as Jane Doe, said Trump had raped her when she was 13, in 1994, at a party at Epstein’s New York mansion. But the woman dropped her lawsuit and canceled a news conference at which she was expected to spell out her allegation. Her lawyer, Lisa Bloom, said the woman had received threats and was too scared to go ahead with her accusation. An attorney for Trump at the time called the allegation “categorically untrue.”
Trump barred Epstein from Mar-a-Lago “because Epstein sexually assaulted an underage girl at the club,” according to court documents filed by Edwards.
In the Palm Beach case, Epstein alleges that Edwards was part of a scam in which lawyers tried to win over investors by claiming to have garnered big-money settlements from famous people. Edwards denies having anything to do with the scam and has in turn sued Epstein, accusing him of filing his lawsuit as retribution for Edwards’s representation of the young women.
In a separate case, Edwards is trying to persuade a federal judge to reopen the investigation into Epstein that Acosta ended.
The Palm Beach case has dragged on for years in part because lawyers have clogged the court with all manner of attacks on each other. Along the way, both Epstein and Edwards have avoided saying much — Epstein by repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and Edwards by arguing that most of his communications about the matter are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Among the 218 exhibits that Edwards’s lawyers plan to introduce are Epstein’s flight logs, phone records, notes found in his trash, and Amazon.com orders for books such as “SM 101: A Realistic Introduction” and “Slavecraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude: Principles, Skills and Tools.”