By Ryan Cooper
December 15, 2019
“Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself!” has become a rallying cry for the extreme right, which has concocted elaborate theories that top Democrats or liberal celebrities had him assassinated. Epstein, of course, was the notorious financier who died in jail on August 10 while awaiting trial for sex trafficking, including of minors.
To be sure, the apparent suicide of Epstein looks extraordinarily suspicious. But there is one glaring omission in the far-right’s conspiracy theories of his death: Donald Trump, who was for years one of Epstein’s closest friends and party companions.
The details of Epstein’s death were instant conspiracy catnip. First, he was found in his cell three weeks before he died with bruising on his neck, from either an assault or an attempted suicide. He was placed on suicide watch, but taken off again just six days later. He was still supposed to be under close monitoring, but the night he died, his cellmate was removed, and guards just 15 feet from his cell allegedly fell asleep instead of checking on him every 30 minutes as required. Two cameras watching his cell malfunctioned, while a third had footage that was “unusable.” He supposedly died from choking himself with a bedsheet — another item he was not supposed to have — but in the process the hyoid bone in his neck was broken, a common sign of being strangled. The New York medical examiner ruled the death a suicide.
Then there is how Epstein was for decades firmly ensconced in the global oligarchy. He associated with Trump, Prince Andrew of the U.K., the Clinton family, Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz, Kevin Spacey, Chris Tucker, billionaire Les Wexner, and many, many other politicians and celebrities, usually at lavish parties. He reportedly worked in secret with M.I.T.’s Media Lab to launder donations from him. The flight logs of his “Lolita Express” private jet contain many of the same names (Bill Clinton appears on the logs over a dozen times).
Epstein’s “little black book” of contacts has over 1,000 names, reports Bloomberg: “including Ralph Fiennes, Alec Baldwin, David Blaine, Jimmy Buffett and Courtney Love; media figures including Charlie Rose, Mike Wallace and Barbara Walters; former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, former British prime minister Tony Blair, industrialist David Koch and the late Salomon Brothers Chief Executive Officer John Gutfreund and his wife, Susan,” in addition to Clinton and Trump.
These are the kind of connections that allowed Epstein to worm his way back into polite society after he was convicted of a minor charge of soliciting an underage prostitute in 2008 — minor only because then-federal prosecutor Alex Acosta reportedly overrode local authorities and got Epstein a sweetheart plea bargain.
Blackmail has also been hinted at — most notably by Epstein himself. In August 2018, he claimed to reporter James Stewart he knew a “great deal” about dozens of rich and powerful people, “some of it potentially damaging or embarrassing, including details about their supposed sexual proclivities and recreational drug use.”
Frankly, I’m sympathetic to the conspiracy theorists. On the one hand, American prisons are notoriously horribly run, and it is not unprecedented for a wealthy person facing serious jail time to kill himself. On the other hand, literally hundreds of the most powerful people on Earth very likely had a strong motive for keeping Epstein quiet. I can see why people have such a hard time swallowing the official story.
Yet the right-wing conspiracy theorists ignore the obvious Trump connections. Instead many hook into longstanding nutball theories that the Clintons have been murdering people for decades. Indeed, Trump himself retweeted a suggestion from a conservative comedian that Epstein died because he “had information on Bill Clinton.” Fake social media posts from Hillary Clinton predicting Epstein would kill himself circulated in right-wing swamps. Other right-wingers theorized Epstein isn’t even dead. Still others are more subdued: Sen. John Kennedy (R-Lou.), for instance, asserted that like Christmas ornaments and drywall, Epstein just couldn’t have hanged himself — but did not mention Trump.
But perhaps the most common iteration of the conspiracy thinking on the right has been simple repetition of the “Epstein didn’t kill himself” meme, which originated as a non sequitur comment on Fox News. This has been seen all over conservative publications, social media, and clothing — a right-wing congressman even hid “Epstein didn’t kill himself” as an acrostic in the first letters of numerous tweets.
And to be sure, there are a huge number of such people who have associated with Epstein. Bill Clinton used to be president and was until recently a respected elder statesman — his Epstein connection (among other things) really is a gruesome indictment of the Democratic Party establishment.
But Trump is the actual president right now, and he was probably even closer to Epstein than Clinton. Acquaintances of both report they were friends for years starting in the late 1980s. They were photographed at Mar-a-Lago multiple times in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 1992 NBC even filmed a Trump party Epstein attended, where the two chatted about how hot the attending NFL cheerleaders were.
In 2002, Trump told New York magazine, “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy … 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.” Does that sound like someone who is unfamiliar with Epstein’s sexual perversion? Indeed, a Florida businessman named George Houraney told the New York Times that he had explicitly warned Trump about Epstein in the ’90s: “I said, ‘Look, Donald, I know Jeff really well, I can’t have him going after younger girls,'” but “Trump didn’t care about that.” (It also bears mentioning that at least 23 women have publicly accused Trump of unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault, and one has accused him of rape.)
Trump did eventually break off ties with Epstein, apparently over a mansion both of them wanted, and banned him from Mar-a-Lago after his indictment in 2007. But Trump’s protestations that he was “not a fan” are less than convincing — why then would he hire the man who let Epstein off in 2008 as secretary of labor? (Acosta has since resigned.)
If we are to start speculating about who might have offed Epstein, Trump would unquestionably be a prime suspect — not only because the president is so powerful, but also because of his long-documented ties to the Mafia. At a minimum it is extremely damning for the leader of the American far right to have associated for nearly two decades with a ruthless sexual predator, whose taste for young girls was an open secret.
But that is anathema to right-wing conspiracy theorists, who views Trump as the heroic savior of the white race. And so they simply ignore the obvious Trump-Epstein connection, and spin up wild theories about the Clintons or an impending crackdown on billionaire sex predators. Folks — the connection is coming from inside the White House.