The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Jeffrey Epstein saga is far from over. Investigators must keep squeezing.

Jeffrey Epstein in a Florida courtroom in July 2008.
Jeffrey Epstein in a Florida courtroom in July 2008. (Uma Sanghvi/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Attorney General William P. Barr has shown admirable energy in the days following the jailhouse death of accused sex trafficker and child molester Jeffrey Epstein. According to news reports, Barr has demanded updates every three hours on progress in the investigation of an event that reeks to high heaven. Somehow, the same prison that held the escape artist and drug kingpin Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as “El Chapo,” was unable to keep an aging sybarite secure. Left unsupervised in a private cell, Epstein was apparently provided not only with a bedsheet suitable for making a noose but also with a bunk bed tall enough to hang it from.

Meanwhile, FBI agents have swarmed over Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, promised a continuing investigation of Epstein’s enablers. Various associates of the dead financier are said to be lawyering up. I imagine Barr’s department will also take an interest in Epstein’s sprawling New Mexico ranch, where, the New York Times recently reported, the old goat dreamed of locating a breeding operation at which young women would be impregnated with his supposedly superior sperm in a philanthropic effort to improve the human race.

At the heart of various conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death is the notion that his sordid story dies with him. Supposedly, someone in his wide circle of powerful acquaintances — presidents, princes, prime ministers and professors — arranged his demise to bury his secrets. But there are likely others still living who know those secrets, or parts of them, and will spill if squeezed.

So keep squeezing, Mr. Barr and Mr. Berman.

The list of knowledgeable sources obviously starts with the women whom Epstein allegedly put in charge of recruiting his victims. The information in their heads was valuable enough to Epstein that he deployed his expensive legal team to shelter them from prosecution as part of his 2008 plea bargain with authorities in South Florida. Whatever immunity that bought is cutting no ice with Berman in New York. Threatened with conspiracy charges and faced with paying their own legal bills, Epstein’s associates now have strong incentive to come clean.

Follow David Von Drehle's opinionsFollow

Then there is the wider retinue of staff and contractors who kept the various Epstein residences shipshape: the butlers who oversaw all the comings and goings; the housemaids who dealt with the dirty laundry; the chauffeurs who couldn’t help overhearing things said by their passengers; the pilots who ferried Epstein and his friends from place to place. And so on.

Epstein’s circle also includes, according to media reports, the partner in his so-called modeling agency, a small number of employees at his mysterious financial services business and personal bankers at JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank. They may be able to shed considerable light on the sources of Epstein’s wealth and the uses to which he put it. So, too, might the apparel billionaire Leslie Wexner, Epstein’s former patron. He could potentially explain how Epstein wove such a spell that, as Wexner alleged last week, he could steal nearly $50 million from Wexner, though Wexner never reported the theft.

Finally, there is the huge number of Epstein’s alleged victims. Journalist Julie K. Brown interviewed scores of them for her groundbreaking investigation last year in the Miami Herald, but until recently, the feds have shown little interest in their stories. With Barr’s support, Berman can deploy the resources necessary to locate additional victims around the world — for there is ample reason to believe that Epstein’s recruiters worked throughout Europe as well as in the United States.

Epstein’s secrets will surely come out, because he seems to have made little effort to hide his behavior. Writer James B. Stewart was a stranger to Epstein, chasing a story involving the automaker Tesla, when Epstein began talking at length about his sexual appetite for teenagers and the “dirt” he collected on famous people. This was many years after Epstein’s friend Donald Trump commented approvingly to New York magazine about Epstein’s pursuit of women, many of them “on the younger side.” There was never anything furtive about Epstein’s moral debauchery.

With so many leads, even Inspector Clouseau could unravel Epstein’s crimes. But the more difficult question to answer is this: How did he go on for so long? The list of people and institutions who consorted with Epstein runs from former president Bill Clinton to Harvard University, from Britain’s Prince Andrew to former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. The one name we don’t find is that of a single person who tried to use his influence to shut down Epstein’s sordid world. It seems the only thing that mattered to the governors, senators and scientists he courted was the money he lavished and the luxuries it bought.

The conspiracy here is hiding in plain sight. It was a conspiracy of silence and willful ignorance, involving many people of high station — but tragically low character.

Read more from David Von Drehle’s archive.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide is a shocking example of an all-too-common phenomenon

Jennifer Rubin: This is how to respond to Trump’s conspiratorial lunacy

Harry Litman: Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide is unfathomable

Michael R. Bromwich: Epstein’s death raises a lot of questions. Don’t jump to theories to answer them.

Alyssa Rosenberg: We need to know the truth about Jeffrey Epstein and his friends. All of it.