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Jeffrey Epstein’s connections to Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, explained

Here’s what we know.

Portrait of American financier Jeffrey Epstein (left) and real estate developer Donald Trump as they pose together at the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, 1997. 
Davidoff Studios / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Jeffrey Epstein died while awaiting trial this weekend in what jail officials say was a suicide — bringing one of the highest-profile prosecutions in the nation to an abrupt conclusion.

The sex trafficking charges against Epstein filed last month were notable for many reasons: the scope of his alleged crimes, his wealth and influence, and the controversial non-prosecution agreement the Justice Department struck with him a decade earlier. But they also got a good deal of attention because of Epstein’s past ties to two particularly prominent people: former President Bill Clinton and current President Donald Trump.

There are all sorts of unsupported speculation and dark conspiracy theories related to Epstein, Trump, and Clinton — but here’s our understanding of the known facts right now.

In the years before Epstein’s 2007 guilty plea to solicitation of prostitution with a minor, he was known for “collecting” friendships with many noteworthy or influential people — including Clinton and Trump, who were social acquaintances. Clinton took international trips on Epstein’s plane in the early years of his post-presidency, including a trip to several African countries with Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker.

Trump, meanwhile, reportedly attended Epstein-hosted events in New York and Florida, as Epstein patronized the Mar-a-Lago Club. In 2002, Trump even gave a remarkable on-the-record comment about Epstein to a New York magazine journalist, calling him “terrific” and adding that he “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

So, at the very least, Trump and Clinton were friendly with someone who turned out to be a very bad guy.

Yet the nature of some of the allegations against Epstein led to speculation that there could be even more to the story. In particular, one Epstein accuser has claimed in court filings that in addition to sexually exploiting her himself, Epstein trafficked her to other wealthy and powerful men. (Prosecutors did not make this allegation themselves.)

Clinton has not been accused of any specific sexual misconduct connected to Epstein. As for Trump: During the 2016 campaign, Trump was sued by an anonymous woman who claimed he raped her at an Epstein party when she was 13 years old. However, several journalists who dug into this allegation back then came away voicing caution or downright skepticism, and the accuser withdrew her lawsuit shortly before the election.

So there hasn’t yet been corroboration of Epstein-related wrongdoing on Trump’s part by media outlets, or any accusation against Clinton at all.

But there was much speculation that other influential figures could be implicated in Epstein’s crime. Julie Brown, a Miami Herald investigative reporter who has covered Epstein’s case intensively, said on MSNBC that “there are probably quite a few important people, powerful people, who are sweating it out right now.”

Epstein’s connections to Trump

By Trump’s own description, his social relationship with Epstein started several decades ago, in the late 1980s. Describing Epstein to Landon Thomas Jr. of New York magazine for a 2002 profile, Trump made a comment that, in retrospect, was frighteningly on-the-nose:

“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen 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.”

That is: Trump praised Epstein, dated their social relationship as beginning around 1987, said they shared a taste for “beautiful” women, and specifically noted that Epstein liked women “on the younger side.”

Since Epstein’s legal troubles became known, Trump’s attorneys have tried to downplay his association with Epstein. (“He had no relationship with Mr. Epstein and had no knowledge whatsoever of his conduct,” Trump lawyer Alan Garten told Politico in 2017.)

But even beyond Trump’s own words further up, there’s a good deal of evidence that the two were friendly social acquaintances at least through the early 2000s:

  • Media reports from the late 1990s and early 2000s frequently mention Trump attending Epstein-hosted social events, and Epstein attending events at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
  • “Friends and associates” of the pair told the Washington Post that Epstein and Trump “had socialized for years, drawn together by a mix of money, women and power.”
  • NBC News recently aired a video from 1992 of Trump and Epstein together at a Mar-a-Lago party, discussing women and laughing together.
  • The New York Times reported that, according to businessman George Houraney, Trump asked him to organize a “calendar girl” party at Mar-a-Lago — and said he and Epstein would be the only men in attendance.
  • The New York Times also reported that Epstein has claimed to people that he introduced Donald Trump to Melania — though this hasn’t been corroborated.
  • Trump called Epstein twice in November 2004, according to message pads seized from Epstein’s Florida mansion by the government.
  • Several phone numbers for Trump, including an emergency contact and a number for Trump’s security, were among many notable people’s numbers listed in Epstein’s “black book” (which was later obtained by the government).
  • Epstein’s brother Mark testified that Epstein once took Trump on one of his planes to go from Florida to New York, saying he thought it happened in the late 1990s. Mark Epstein also told the Post Trump flew on Epstein’s plane “numerous times.”
  • At some point around the time of Epstein’s legal problems, the friendship appears to have ended. Trump has spread the story that he banned Epstein from Mar-a-Lago for making sexual advances to a masseuse. However, the New York Times reported that by some accounts the two men only fell out “after a failed business arrangement between them.” The Washington Post reports that they were rival bidders for the same Palm Beach estate (Trump won).

“I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him,” President Trump said recently. “I had a falling out with him a long time ago, I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years, I wasn’t a fan.”

Trump’s name has also come up in legal wrangling around Epstein — albeit for very different reasons.

The 2009 subpoena: In 2009, Brad Edwards, an attorney who has represented various Epstein victims, had Trump served with a subpoena for testimony in a case against Epstein.

But Edwards is not alleging any wrongdoing from Trump; rather, the opposite. He said in a recent interview that he had served subpoenas on many connected people in 2009, and that Trump was “the only person who picked up the phone and said, ‘Let’s just talk. I’ll give you as much time as you want.’”

Edwards added that Trump “was very helpful, in the information that he gave,” calling it “good information that checked out and that helped us.” And, he said, Trump “gave no indication whatsoever that he was involved in anything untoward whatsoever.”

Virginia Roberts’s lawsuit: In 1999, 16-year-old Virginia Roberts worked as a spa attendant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. It was there, she says, that Epstein’s girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell recruited her to give massages to Epstein at his house. But Roberts (who now goes by Virginia Giuffre) hasn’t accused Trump of any wrongdoing, and her previous status as a Mar-a-Lago employee is the only connection to Trump.

The Katie Johnson lawsuit: This is the only accusation against Trump for Epstein-related wrongdoing. An anonymous woman sued Trump in 2016, claiming that in 1994, he violently raped her at an orgy hosted by Epstein. She said she was 13 years old at the time, and accused Epstein of raping her as well. She first filed suit in California under the name “Katie Johnson,” and when it was thrown out there for technical reasons, she filed it in New York under “Jane Doe.”

But many journalists were wary about this claim. There was no corroborating evidence offered (except for affidavits from two anonymous people claiming to have been told of or witnessed it), and the suit appeared “to have been orchestrated by an eccentric anti-Trump campaigner with a record of making outlandish claims about celebrities,” the Guardian’s Jon Swaine wrote. Jezebel’s Anna Merlan tried for some time to get to the bottom of what was going on and concluded in June 2016, “The facts speak less to a scandal and more, perhaps, to an attempt at a smear.”

Trump himself said, “The allegations are not only categorically false, but disgusting at the highest level and clearly framed to solicit media attention or, perhaps, are simply politically motivated.”

All that was before the Access Hollywood tape and before many women had spoken out publicly to accuse Trump of sexual assault. But even after that, the anonymity of “Katie Johnson” and the sketchiness of her associates kept mainstream US journalists wary about this accusation. She ended up withdrawing her lawsuit days before the 2016 election; her attorney Lisa Bloom said it was because she was getting death threats.

Epstein’s connections to Clinton

According to the Daily Beast’s Emily Shugerman, Epstein visited the White House for a donor event during Bill Clinton’s presidency and met with a White House aide several times there. Shugerman also unearthed a 1995 letter from businesswoman Lynn Forester in which she said she enjoyed briefly meeting Clinton at a recent event and used her “fifteen seconds of access to discuss Jeffrey Epstein and currency stabilization.”

Soon after Bill Clinton concluded his presidency in 2001, the ties deepened. Clinton entered a new stage of his career, in which he’d travel the world, launch philanthropic initiatives, hang out with rich people and celebrities, and make money.

“What attracted Clinton to Epstein was quite simple: He had a plane,” Landon Thomas Jr. wrote in that 2002 New York magazine profile. Clinton’s aide Doug Band made the introduction, and that September, Epstein and Clinton were off on a tour of five African countries, alongside actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker. Per Clinton’s team, the trip was about “democratization, empowering the poor, citizen service, and combating HIV/AIDS.” (It was that trip that first elevated Epstein to some media notoriety, as journalists began to dig into Clinton’s new friend.)

That wasn’t the only trip. According to Clinton spokesperson Angel Ureña, in a statement last week, there was one more to Africa, one to Europe, and one to Asia — but, he says, Clinton and Epstein haven’t spoken in “well over a decade.”

Virginia Giuffre has said in an affidavit that Clinton was also present on Little St. James Island, Epstein’s private island in the US Virgin Islands. But so far, there has been no corroboration for this claim, and Ureña says Clinton has never been there.

Clinton has been accused of sexual misconduct in the past, including by Juanita Broaddrick, who says he raped her in 1978 (Clinton has denied this). But there have been no accusations of sexual misconduct against Clinton related to Epstein. Even Giuffre, who said she recalled Clinton visiting Epstein’s island, said she had not had sexual relations with Clinton or seen him have sexual relations with anyone.

Did prosecutors want to go beyond Epstein?

The undercurrent of all this is the widespread speculation, and the occasional specific claim, that in addition to sexually abusing these girls, Epstein also trafficked them to the wealthy and powerful friends he was frequently hanging out with at the time.

Giuffre said in her 2015 affidavit that this is exactly what happened to her. “Epstein also trafficked me for sexual purposes to many other powerful men, including politicians and powerful business executives,” she said. “Epstein required me to describe the sexual events that I had with these men presumably so he could potentially blackmail them.”

She named names: Prince Andrew of the British royal family (there is a photograph of her with him) and law professor Alan Dershowitz. Buckingham Palace has denied her accusation about the prince, and Dershowitz has called her a liar who “is going to end up in prison.” (Dershowitz has also been Epstein’s defense attorney.) The identities of others Giuffre named were unsealed in court papers Friday.

“Epstein specifically told me that the reason for him doing this was so that they would ‘owe him,’ they would ‘be in his pocket,’ and he would ‘have something on them,’” Giuffre said in the affidavit.

However, we should stress again that Giuffre has made no accusation about either Clinton or Trump having any involvement.

Prosecutors have not made any such accusation either, focusing instead on Epstein’s own sexual conduct. It appeared the investigation was still in flux, with more victims coming forward and evidence being seized from Epstein’s Manhattan mansion. For now, though, the case is one against Epstein himself. But with Epstein’s death, the path forward is unclear.

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