This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Epstein had been in jail since July, when he was arrested for allegedly running a sex trafficking operation by luring underage girls as young as 14 years old to his mansion in Manhattan. Epstein’s death came less than 24 hours after hundreds of pages of court documents were unsealed with testimonies from former employees and new details of sexual abuse committed by Epstein, which also implicated a number of well-known figures. Men named in the papers include former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, and Prince Andrew. They have all denied the charges.
Numerous conspiracy theories swirled online about Epstein’s death. President Trump joined in by retweeting, without evidence, a conspiracy theory that Epstein’s death was the result of foul play and somehow connected to the Clintons.
Epstein’s accusers spoke out over the weekend. Jennifer Araoz, who last month came forward to say Epstein raped her when she was 15 years old, said in a statement, quote, “I am angry Jeffrey Epstein won’t have to face his survivors of his abuse in court. We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed, the pain and trauma he caused so many people,” unquote.
Epstein’s victims have been pursuing justice for years. Epstein was previously accused of molesting and trafficking dozens, and potentially hundreds, of underage girls in Florida. But Jeffrey Epstein ended up serving just 13 months in a county jail after the U.S. attorney in Florida, Alexander Acosta, cut what’s been described as “one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history.” Criticism of Acosta’s role forced him to resign as a labor secretary last month.
While the federal criminal prosecution of Epstein will likely end, prosecutors can still pursue charges against any of his accomplices. Civil suits will also continue against Epstein’s multimillion-dollar estate. Lawsuits could be filed as soon as Wednesday, when New York’s Child Victims Act takes effect. The new law gives all past victims of child sex abuse a year to sue their abusers regardless of how long ago the crime occurred.
We go to Miami right now to be joined by Casey Frank, the Miami Herald’s senior editor for investigations. The newspapers multipart series published in November is largely credited with reopening the Epstein case.
Casey Frank, thanks so much for joining us again. Welcome back to Democracy Now!
CASEY FRANK: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: First, share your response when you heard the news on Saturday, authorities saying that Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself in his cell.
CASEY FRANK: Shocked, but not surprised. Jeffrey Epstein would have been a person who would enter the jail system up there with a blinking neon sign that would say “potential suicide risk.” And, of course, there was the incident back in late July where he perhaps attempted to kill himself. The details on that incident are a little bit murky. And so, what really surprised me was to find out that he was not, at the time of his death, on suicide watch.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is extremely significant. He had attempted suicide in July. Many people thought, as you said, he was still on suicide watch. They only learned after his death that authorities took him off suicide watch and put him in a cell. The protocol is, if you are taken off suicide watch, you would be in a cell with another person. He was alone in that cell. He was supposed to be checked something like at least every 30 minutes, which apparently he wasn’t. The excuse given was that the guards were overworked, had worked overtime throughout the week, were tired. Many people are really questioning whether in fact this was a suicide, or was it a kind of, sadly, assisted suicide, in the sense that all of these suicide protocols were broken.
CASEY FRANK: Well, the investigation of that suicide and how it was allowed to occur is one of many that are going to occur in the coming weeks and months. Although Mr. Epstein is dead, there are many investigative avenues to pursue. And we and others, I’m sure, are going to be pursuing them.
AMY GOODMAN: And William Barr — in fact, these are Barr’s bars, right? This is a prison in New York, the Manhattan correctional center, which is run by the Department of Justice; ultimately, the attorney general is in charge, William Barr is in charge. He said an investigation will go forward. But as you pointed out, the investigation hasn’t even been revealed about what happened the first time, whether it was Epstein himself who attempted suicide, or, at that time, he was in a jail cell with someone else he accused — he said someone had attacked him.
CASEY FRANK: Correct. I’m sure there will be video surveillance coming out, both from the original incident and the incident over this weekend. And that, along with employee logs and — will tell us or give us some indication of what happened. And like I said, that is only one of many investigations that need to be pursued, despite the fact that Mr. Epstein is no longer here to face whatever charges he was going to face.
AMY GOODMAN: Right. And that final point, a video, they’re now saying there is no video at MCC, Metropolitan Correctional Center. But, Casey Frank, your newspaper, the Miami Herald, has an important headline. The headline says — the editorial says, “in death, Jeffrey Epstein is not a victim. The real victims still deserve justice.” And that’s what you, as editor, and Julie Brown, the reporter, have been doing for months: giving voice to the victims. Can you explain what happens at this point, now that Jeffrey Epstein, who had been rearrested and was in MCC facing 45 years in prison — what happens to the victims?
CASEY FRANK: Well, several victims, or alleged victims, had stepped forward after Mr. Epstein’s arrest last month. I think there were at least a dozen of those. I would expect to see more coming forward in the future. Bear in mind that a lot of these victims were very frightened to come forward over the years. It was very difficult for Julie Brown, our reporter, to get any of them to speak on the record and on camera. it took quite a bit of coaxing, and quite a bit of courage on their part.
As to what happens in terms of getting them justice, Mr. Epstein has a very large estate, as we know, and as part of the prosecution in New York, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern New York had made known that it was going to seek to seize the $77 million mansion of Mr. Epstein. Of course, that would have required convicting him of the crimes that he was charged with. He will not now be convicted of those crimes, and so it complicates the efforts of the victims, the lawyers for those victims, and the Manhattan U.S. attorney to achieve justice through some sort of financial means. But they have said that they will continue to do so.
In addition, as you said earlier, the conspiracy case against — that was filed against Mr. Epstein will continue. That means there will be other potential defendants coming forward. One that has been mentioned prominously — prominently, rather, is Ghislaine Maxwell, who was alleged to be Mr. Epstein’s pimp. There are others. He had paymasters. He had schedulers. He had a large operation that served his alleged sexual trafficking machine, I guess you would say. And I would expect to see other people charged in the not-too-distant future.
AMY GOODMAN: Casey Frank, can you talk about the document release on Friday, hours before Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his cell?
CASEY FRANK: Well, it was massive. It was 2,000 pages. We were still sifting through those documents when Mr. Epstein apparently committed suicide in his jail cell, so we’re still going through those records.
Much of what was in there was already known. The names that you mentioned earlier, including the former governor of New Mexico and the former majority leader, they had been out there in the ether before, whether they had been published or not. All have, of course, denied any sort of connection to the sexual activities involving Mr. Epstein’s sex slaves, I guess you would call them.
But there was other interesting information that we provided in our Saturday news coverage. Specifically, there was some detail about an au pair that was brought to the United States, I believe from Sweden, who worked for a couple who were friendly with Mr. Epstein. And she described — or, rather, a butler who worked for them described how she was brought down to Mr. Epstein’s island in the Virgin Islands, and allegedly Mr. Epstein and perhaps others attempted to coerce her into sex. She became very upset. She found her way back to the home she was staying in up here. And this was something that was somewhat new to us.
There was also some detail in there about Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who has been probably the most vocal of Mr. Epstein’s alleged victims, describing, in one instance, how she ended up in a hospital as a result of the alleged abuse by Mr. Epstein.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what Giuffre is saying.
CASEY FRANK: So, there is probably more —
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what Giuffre is alleging in this case.
CASEY FRANK: Well, Ms. Giuffre is alleging that she was essentially — she was lured to Mr. Epstein’s estate in Palm Beach. Actually, she was working at Mar-a-Lago at the time. And she was brought to Mr. Epstein’s estate by Ghislaine Maxwell to ostensibly learn about the skill of massage and also possibly be put through college and travel the world. What she found is that she was immediately turned into essentially a sex slave by Mr. Epstein and, allegedly, Ms. Maxwell, as well. And she, more than anyone else, has been vocal over the years in alleging not only that she was abused, but that this was a vast, far-reaching sexual trafficking operation.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the whereabouts of Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of Robert Maxwell, the media baron who used to own the New York Daily News, who mysteriously died at sea in the early ’90s — her whereabouts are not known right now. Is that right?
CASEY FRANK: Well, that has been reported. We have not confirmed that. But clearly, she’s not in custody. Now, an interesting detail that came out at the time of Mr. Epstein’s arrest, or shortly thereafter, was that two or three days after the Miami Herald wrote its stories in November, Mr. Epstein cut large checks to two individuals who were included in the nonprosecution agreement from back in 2008. And it would not be surprising if that money was sent to individuals for the purpose of buying their silence. I think that remains to be seen. That information has been kept close to the vest by federal prosecutors.
But, now, I will raise another point, which is, in the case of the Mueller investigation, there were sometimes people charged with crimes, and yet those charges were not revealed at the time the charges were levied for various reasons. Is it possible that some people have already been charged in connection with the Epstein case, but the fact of those charges have been held back because they were witnesses or because they have not been arrested yet? I think that is a possibility, and we should find out soon.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Lisa Bloom, who represents two of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged victims. This is Bloom speaking on MSNBC’s [AM] Joy on Saturday.
LISA BLOOM: This is a very important time for victims now. They can still bring a civil case against his estate. And we are on the verge of filing one. We have started out, with my Epstein clients, working with law enforcement, cooperating with the prosecutors in New York, because we thought that was an important first step. Of course, with his death, the criminal case goes away, but I want all victims to know that they can still proceed against his estate. And I’m calling today upon his estate to freeze all of his assets and not disperse them, and hold them so his victims can get full and fair compensation for the lifelong injuries he’s caused them. I’ve sat with my clients as they have cried and talked about how their life was changed forever by this predator, how they couldn’t trust men, how their self-esteem was shattered, how their sexual relationships were destroyed, how their careers were derailed. They deserve compensation.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Lisa Bloom, who represents two of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged victims, speaking on AM Joy this weekend. Casey Frank, if you can respond to what she’s saying, and remind people the scope, the number of girls who have come forward — now, of course, women — and their estimated ages at the time they say that they were abused by Epstein or the people he gave them to?
CASEY FRANK: Well, many of them say they were as young as 14 to 16 years old. We know that there were at least 80 alleged victims, and probably many more. We know there are 80, because when Julie Brown started investigating this case 10 years after the fact, that’s how many victims she was able to identify and attempt to track down. Now, many of them did not want to talk about their experience with Mr. Epstein, but a few did, and that’s what broke open this case. And their courage is really quite remarkable.
What the attorney just said is very important. And it’s important to understand that a lot of what’s known about Jeffrey Epstein is not known because of investigations by state attorneys or federal prosecutors. Those investigations essentially went nowhere, and that’s a whole other question. What brought out many of the facts about Mr. Epstein is lawsuits filed on behalf of courageous women who felt that they needed to speak up, even several years later, now that they are adults. And, yes, many of them, including the ones we have talked to, have suffered severe lasting trauma. And they will be deprived of their day in court with Mr. Epstein, but these lawsuits will continue, and they should, and that’s how more facts are going to come out about Mr. Epstein’s activities and those around him.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about this new law that’s going into effect in New York, the Child Victims Act? The new law gives all past victims of child sex abuse a year to sue their abusers regardless of how long ago the crime occurred. Do you expect to see a flood of lawsuits after Wednesday?
CASEY FRANK: I don’t know. I am not very well versed on that lawsuit. I do know this, that when the federal prosecutor in New York filed charges last month, he made clear that the criminal activity — the alleged criminal activity took place not just in Florida, but in New York and elsewhere. And so, certainly, for those victims who were in New York and who were victimized in New York, it would seem that that law would apply in this case.
AMY GOODMAN: What most shocked you, as we wrap up this discussion, what came out on Friday? I mean, Casey Frank, you’ve been dealing with this case for many months, these thousands of pages that have come out, and then, of course, you are interrupted in that investigation, as you analyze them, with the death of Jeffrey Epstein. But in all of this, this weekend, what most shocked you?
CASEY FRANK: I think what shocked me is this: There were 2,000 pages of documents involving a person alleged to have operated a massive sexual trafficking operation. There are many more pages yet to come. Remember, these are pages that are coming out because of a lawsuit filed by the Miami Herald, and this was just the start of that release. And I think what surprised me is this: that a court system would see fit to seal this information in the first place. And that genuinely puzzles me, because it feels to me like this is information that needs to be aired out, not kept under wraps by any judge and any court. And maybe in this #MeToo era, we’re seeing a shift in the attitude toward such things. I understand that the names, and certainly agree that the names of victims should be kept sealed, but the activities themselves need to be aired out. And the fact that a judge in this case was convinced to keep all of this under lock and key surprised me quite a bit.
AMY GOODMAN: Casey Frank, I want to thank you for being with us, senior editor for investigations at the Miami Herald, helped lead the paper’s coverage of Jeffrey Epstein.
When we come back, we go to Hong Kong, where the airport has been shut down as chaos engulfs the airport. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters filled the travel hub Monday to protest police brutality. Stay with us.