Day Jeffrey Epstein Told Me He Had Dirt
on Powerful People
By James B. Stewart
The overriding impression I took away from our roughly 90-minute conversation was that Mr. Epstein knew an astonishing number of rich, famous and powerful people, and had photos to prove it. He also claimed to know a great deal about these people, some of it potentially damaging or embarrassing, including details about their supposed sexual proclivities and recreational drug use.
So one of my first thoughts on hearing of Mr. Epstein’s suicide was that many prominent men and at least a few women must be breathing sighs of relief that whatever Mr. Epstein knew, he has taken it with him.
During our conversation, Mr. Epstein made no secret of his own scandalous past — he’d pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting prostitution from underage girls and was a registered sex offender — and acknowledged to me that he was a pariah in polite society. At the same time, he seemed unapologetic. His very notoriety, he said, was what made so many people willing to confide in him. Everyone, he suggested, has secrets and, he added, compared with his own, they seemed innocuous. People confided in him without feeling awkward or embarrassed, he claimed.
I’d never met Mr. Epstein before. I had contacted him because my colleagues and I had heard a rumor that he was advising Tesla’s embattled chief executive, Elon Musk, who was in trouble after announcing on Twitter that he had lined up the funding to take Tesla private.
The Securities and Exchange Commission began an investigation into Mr. Musk’s remarks, which moved markets but didn’t appear to have much basis in fact. There were calls for Mr. Musk to relinquish his position as Tesla’s chairman and for Tesla to recruit more independent directors. I’d heard that Mr. Epstein was compiling a list of candidates at Mr. Musk’s behest — and that Mr. Epstein had an email from Mr. Musk authorizing the search for a new chairman.
Mr. Musk and Tesla vehemently deny this. “It is incorrect to say that Epstein ever advised Elon on anything,” a spokeswoman for Mr. Musk, Keely Sulprizio, said Monday.
When I contacted Mr. Epstein, he readily agreed to an interview. The caveat was that the conversation would be “on background,” which meant I could use the information as long as I didn’t attribute it directly to him. (I consider that condition to have lapsed with his death.)
He insisted that I meet him at his house, which I’d seen referred to as the largest single-family home in Manhattan. This seems plausible: I initially walked past the building, on East 71st Street, because it looked more like an embassy or museum than a private home. Next to the imposing double doors was a polished brass plaque with the initials “J.E.” and a bell. After I rang, the door was opened by a young woman, her blond hair pulled back in a chignon, who greeted me with what sounded like an Eastern European accent.
I can’t say how old she was, but my guess would be late teens or perhaps 20. Given Mr. Epstein’s past, this struck me as far too close to the line. Why would Mr. Epstein want a reporter’s first impression to be that of a young woman opening his door?
The woman led me up a monumental staircase to a room on the second floor overlooking the Frick museum across the street. It was quiet, the lighting dim, and the air-conditioning was set very low. After a few minutes, Mr. Epstein bounded in, dressed casually in jeans and a polo shirt, shook my hand and said he was a big fan of my work. He had a big smile and warm manner. He was trim and energetic, perhaps from all the yoga he said he was practicing. He was undeniably charismatic.
Before we left the room he took me to a wall covered with framed photographs. He pointed to a full-length shot of a man in traditional Arab dress. “That’s M.B.S.,” he said, referring to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The crown prince had visited him many times, and they spoke often, Mr. Epstein said.
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