On Monday, the New York Times columnist James B. Stewart published a remarkable article: a summary of an interview he had conducted last August with Jeffrey Epstein. The two were ostensibly talking together about matters of business—about rumors that Epstein had been doing advisory work for the electric-car company Tesla. But Epstein, in Stewart’s telling, kept guiding the conversation toward the secret that was at that point no secret at all: the fact that Epstein was a convicted sex offender. “If he was reticent about Tesla,” Stewart wrote, “he was more at ease discussing his interest in young women”:
He said that criminalizing sex with teenage girls was a cultural aberration and that at times in history it was perfectly acceptable. He pointed out that homosexuality had long been considered a crime and was still punishable by death in some parts of the world.
It’s an argument that is reminiscent of the glib comments Epstein made following his release from a 13-month semi-incarceration, the result of a shockingly lenient plea deal struck in 2008. (“I’m not a sexual predator; I’m an ‘offender,’” Epstein told the New York Post in 2011. “It’s the difference between a murderer and a person who steals a bagel.”) The 2018 version of the argument added a new element, though: It suggested that consent laws were little more than prudishly narrow accidents of history. It insisted that Epstein himself was that most tragic, and heroic, of figures: a person born in the wrong place, at the wrong time. And it attempted, in all that, a sweeping feat of erasure: Epstein’s claim attempted to undermine the testimonies of the more than 80 women who have come forward to say that Epstein molested them when they were girls. Some of the women say they were as young as 13 when the predations began.
“He wanted as many girls as I could get him. It was never enough,” Courtney Wild, one of Epstein’s alleged victims, told the Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown.
“The women who went to Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion as girls tend to divide their lives into two parts: life before Jeffrey and life after Jeffrey,” Brown noted.