Does it help to have friends in high places? And more importantly, why do we even need to find out?
Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, in the biggest news of the week, has been indicted again on charges that he sexually abused dozens of teenage girls between 2002 and 2005. This time, he almost certainly won’t get away with the kind of sweetheart plea deal he received in 2008; the U.S. Attorney who approved that deal, Alex Acosta, has already been forced to resign from his position as Secretary of Labor in the Trump administration.
District Judge Richard Berman is currently overseeing the Epstein proceedings. As New York Magazine reported, his first item of business will be to decide whether or not Epstein gets house arrest on bail.
The chances the billionaire receives house arrest are low.
“Epstein’s lawyers argue that he should be allowed this favorable treatment and that he isn’t a flight risk because what he was accused of does not technically constitute sex trafficking, since he didn’t charge any money for it,” Benjamin Hart noted for New York Magazine.
Moreover, Epstein is requesting that he be released to his palatial Manhattan townhouse. According to The New York Times, the townhouse is a seven-story building with a two-story reception, a heated sidewalk, 21,000 square feet of room and some curious details, like “a photorealistic prison scene that included barbed wire, corrections officers and a guard station, with Mr. Epstein portrayed in the middle” and a chess board with custom pieces dressed in suggestive clothing and modeled after Epstein’s staffers.
The Manhattan residence is also where law enforcement found nude photographs of underage girls.
Berman has previously denied house arrest for a Turkish businessman in a 2016 case. “[T]he defendant’s privately funded armed guard proposal is unreasonable because it helps to foster inequity and unequal treatment in favor of a very small cohort of criminal defendants who are extremely wealthy,” he wrote in that decision, according to New York Magazine.
That’s pretty reasonable. What isn’t entirely reasonable is the fact that Berman is handling this case in the first place.
Epstein’s case is different than almost any other case to hit the federal courts in that the defendant has been linked to not one but two presidents, both of whom are known for problematic sexual behavior. There’s no evidence that anything untoward happened when former President Bill Clinton and Epstein were together, but there’s also evidence that Clinton has underplayed the significance of their relationship.
Another wrinkle? Berman was appointed by Clinton in 1998, according to Ballotpedia.
There’s no reason to doubt Berman’s competency yet, but this isn’t the Supreme Court. There are 10 senior judges on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York who weren’t appointed by Bill Clinton. Surely the court could have assured that cases that even tangentially involve a former president are directed away from judges appointed by that president.
Make no mistake, Clinton is involved. He was once Epstein’s friend, but has attempted to distance himself from the accused sex trafficker. Clinton’s spokesman issued a statement:
“President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York,” the statement from Angel Ureña on Monday read.
“In 2002 and 2003, President Clinton took a total of four trips on Jeffrey Epstein’s airplane: one to Europe, one to Asia, and two to Africa, which included stops in connection with the work of the Clinton Foundation. Staff, supporters of the foundation, and his Secret Service detail traveled on every leg of every trip. He had one meeting with Epstein in his Harlem office in 2002, and around the same time made one brief visit to Epstein’s New York apartment with a staff member and his security detail. He’s not spoken to Epstein in well over a decade, and he has never been to Little St. James Island, Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico, or his residence in Florida.”
Statement on Jeffrey Epstein. pic.twitter.com/98ha9YYd1l
— Angel Ureña (@angelurena) July 8, 2019
But is that statement at odds with the facts? The only indication that Clinton has appeared at any of Epstein’s properties is an affidavit from one of Epstein’s accusers, although the former president denies being there and no records prove it. When it comes to Clinton’s flights on the “Lolita Express,” however, he’s not telling the full story, at least according to records.
“Clinton’s presence aboard Jeffrey Epstein’s Boeing 727 on 11 occasions has been reported, but flight logs show the number is more than double that, and trips between 2001 and 2003 included extended junkets around the world with Epstein and fellow passengers identified on manifests by their initials or first names, including ‘Tatiana,’” Fox News reported in 2016.
Named after a Vladimir Nabokov novel, the jet received its moniker “because it was reportedly outfitted with a bed where passengers had group sex with young girls,” the report continued.
The Washington Examiner reported on Wednesday that the flights took place over six trips, not four. Furthermore, both Fox News and the Examiner noted the same discrepancy from the flight manifests — no Secret Service agents were aboard for one of the trips.
The likelihood that either Bill Clinton (or Donald Trump, for that matter) comes up in court during the proceedings is highly unlikely. But why should a judge who was appointed by one of the men oversee the case? If there was ever a case where a judge should recuse himself because of the president who appointed them, this is certainly it.
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