As the presidential election enters the home stretch, and Joe Biden leads in the polls by a comfortable margin, it’s still anyone’s guess as to whether President Trump will win another four years in the Oval Office. But out of all the scandals that have plagued Trump in his first term, one of the most memorable—his ties to accused underage sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein—might also be the biggest, yet most mysterious, given all of the unanswered questions left after Epstein died by suicide in August 2019.
In his new book, The Spider: Inside the Criminal Web of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, Barry Levine, the former 17-year executive editor of the National Enquirer, takes an exhaustively detailed look at the life, death, and alleged crimes of Epstein, along with his yearslong friendship with Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s—and how Trump’s ascendency to the presidency ultimately helped expose Epstein. The claims made in the excerpt below have not been independently verified.
“The last few years of Jeffrey Epstein’s life were an unending cascade of legal cases and unfavorable media attention. Remarkably, as Epstein grappled with the fallout of his numerous civil cases, his pursuit of girls seemingly did not abate.
In March 2016, Richard Johnson, the New York Post’s famed society and gossip correspondent, wrote a piece for the paper’s “Page Six” column that centered on a specific type of female visitor to Epstein’s mansion—young Russian women. The article was headlined “Jeffrey Epstein’s East Side Mansion Houses Russian Playmates.”
The article stated that Epstein was “not letting his conviction for soliciting prostitution from a teenager interfere with his lifestyle.” Rather than “having his assistants troll local high schools, the billionaire money manager—and registered sex offender—is importing his playmates from Russia,” Johnson declared. “A recent visitor tells me Epstein has a house full of young beauties at his East Seventy-First Street mansion. ‘Half of them are from the former Soviet Union and the other half are a mix of Americans and Europeans.’ ”4 The Post piece indicated that the women appeared to be at least seventeen years old, the age of consent in New York State.
Another visit to Epstein’s Manhattan mansion that sparked curiosity and wonder was a January 2016 visit by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak.
Photographers from the Daily Mail photographed Barak, wearing a heavy winter coat and a Russian fur hat, as he entered and—hours later—exited Epstein’s Manhattan home.
Epstein, who never welcomed publicity, was seeing his guarded and once controlled life play out in real time in the media. Three years before the Miami Herald published their series on the government’s failure to bring justice in the Florida prosecution, a Palm Beach neighbor of Epstein’s brought out a book that examined what had occurred in the Florida case. The author was James Patterson, who happened to be the world’s top-selling novelist.
With the help of investigative reporters John Connolly and Tim Malloy, Patterson took on his fellow Palm Beach resident in Filthy Rich, which was published in 2016. In a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone, Patterson reflected about what drew him in to the case: “It seemed just impossible that this could happen,” he stated. “The more I dug into it, the more insane it seemed.”
Compared to Patterson’s other titles, the book was a modest bestseller. Even after the attention that publication of the book drew, Patterson marveled that his target was still getting a pass. Epstein was still “on the loose in New York.”
In addition to the lawsuits and unwanted media attention, another headache was on the horizon for Jeffrey Epstein. His former friend and houseguest Donald Trump was running for president and would soon occupy the world’s media fascination virtually twenty-four hours a day.
On June 16, 2015, Donald J. Trump descended the gold-plated escalator of Trump Tower, his flagship Manhattan landmark, to announce his candidacy. Trump and Epstein were no longer friends. A mysterious falling-out had occurred years earlier at Mar-a-Lago over events that troubled one of the two men to the point where a once close friendship had cooled, seemingly forever. It isn’t clear whether it was Epstein’s or Trump’s behavior that caused the rift, though Trump has claimed that he ended the social association.
But Trump’s claim to have taken the initiative in breaking off the friendship was disputed by one of the financier’s closest confidants. According to this person’s account, they were told by Epstein in 2016, “If people knew what I know about Trump and Clinton, they’d cancel the election.” Epstein told the person that “he stopped hanging out with Trump” for a specific reason. Before their falling out, Epstein claimed to this person that Trump had visited his office about financial matters. Epstein also recounted a story about one conversation he had with Trump. “Jeffrey asked [Trump], ‘How come you sleep with so many women when you are married?’ And Trump said, ‘Because it’s so wrong,’ ” according to this person’s account.
In a matter of months in the Republican primary campaign, Trump bulldozed his way through a small army of Republican hopefuls—all seasoned politicians—to dominate the electorate and, most important, the global news cycle.
Trump’s candidacy was a curse for Epstein. It didn’t take long for photos of the two men to emerge. There was video footage as well. One snippet showed Trump laughing as a motionless Epstein cracked a smile at a Mar-a-Lago event. There is an infamous photo taken of the two men at the event, a party for a celebrity tennis tournament at Mar-a-Lago on February 12, 2000. The photo shows Trump and his Slovenian-born then girlfriend and future third wife, Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell; Prince Andrew is also in the photograph.
The Trump candidacy survived Epstein. It survived the Access Hollywood tape on which Trump boasts about “grabbing” women “by the p—-y.” It survived his lifetime of womanizing. On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump lost the popular vote but managed to squeak by with enough Electoral College votes to become the forty-fifth president of the United States.
Trump’s ascendancy worried Epstein for another reason. Less than a month after being sworn into office, President Trump nominated Alex Acosta, the former U.S. attorney who had overseen the federal investigation of Epstein in his Florida case, to the position of secretary of labor. For Trump, Acosta looked like a win-win. Acosta was Hispanic in an overwhelmingly white cabinet and an upward mover in Florida’s Republican Party to boot. Trump had taken quite a bit of heat from his opponents over a wide array of anti-Hispanic messaging—from “They are rapists and murderers” in his candidacy announcement speech to his determination to build an anti-immigration wall along the U.S. border with Mexico—and he thought that Acosta’s pick would quiet his critics.
Any man or woman nominated for a cabinet post becomes the subject of intense scrutiny. Government investigators probe deep into a nominee’s personal background, past occupations, and financial history. The objective is to vet political appointees so that by the time they sit down for confirmation by the U.S. Senate, they are above scandal. Government agents from a dozen law enforcement agencies sifted through Acosta’s history. They found nothing that they felt could endanger the confirmation or, more important, embarrass the president. On April 28, 2017, Acosta was easily confirmed by the Senate.
The major investigative outlets, The New York Times and The Washington Post and others, take a close look at these appointees as well. Reporters look for something headlineworthy—some skeleton in a closet that might challenge the perception of a candidate put forward by the administration. In some cases, there are simply no aspersions to be cast. But Trump’s pick of Acosta set off alarms for those who understood his role in the 2007 Epstein non-prosecution agreement. By selecting Acosta as labor secretary, Donald Trump inadvertently placed a blinding spotlight on the past crimes of a former close friend and associate—one that could be an embarrassment to the office of the president.
Julie K. Brown, an investigative journalist for the Miami Herald, ran with the story.
Brown, a Temple University alumnus, was known for her fastidious work, and she was relentless in pursuit of the truth of how a pedophile and sex trafficker could have received such incomprehensibly favorable consideration from a U.S. attorney. Brown spent over a year researching a series of articles that would be collectively published in late 2018 under the title of “Perversion of Justice.” Brown interviewed hundreds of people connected to the case. She found more than eighty victims whose suffering had been brushed aside.
Rather than look at the salacious aspects of Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes, Brown and video journalist Emily Michot chose to focus on the prosecution of the case and how law enforcement—and, in particular, Acosta’s office—may have failed the victims by orchestrating a highly suspect arrangement with a figure of wealth and prominence.
Brown’s exposé revived the case with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, one of the most powerful regional commands in the entire Department of Justice. The #MeToo movement sparked interest in sexual assault and harassment cases that were mishandled. Brown’s reports in the Miami Herald turned what had been largely contained as a Florida story in the media into a national outrage.
Brown received numerous accolades for her groundbreaking reporting—and some notable flak. One person who was unhappy about her work was Alan Dershowitz. The Epstein friend and attorney—who had become a vocal defender of Donald Trump during the special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller into the president’s ties with Russia—contacted the panel deciding the Pulitzer Prize and urged them not to reward Brown with what he referred to as “fake news and shoddy journalism.”
Excerpted from THE SPIDER: Inside the Criminal Web of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Copyright © 2020 by Scoop King Press, Inc. Published by Crown, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on October 20.