Ghislaine Maxwell’s arrest seemed to come out of nowhere. Could it portend more breaks in the Epstein case? I spoke with Matthew Schneier, features writer for New York and the Cut, about what Thursday’s events could mean for Epstein’s co-conspirators — and his victims.
Ben: Ghislaine Maxwell, a onetime fixture of New York’s social elite who helped Jeffrey Epstein groom young girls for abuse, was arrested today in New Hampshire and charged with a series of crimes relating to that abuse. As someone who has written about Maxwell extensively, did you think it was inevitable that she would eventually be found and taken in by the authorities, or does this whole development come as a surprise to you?
Matthew: I think it had an air of inevitability, but for many of us who have been following Maxwell since last summer and even before, it was very much hurry up and wait. Especially after Epstein’s death, the public thirst for justice seemed to attach itself to Maxwell, the most visible and longest-serving of his associates. Still, for months, nothing. There were rumors she was collaborating with the Feds, as well as rumors that she was continuing to enjoy the high life — for a minute, tabloids seemed to have tracked her to Brazil. Even today, at the press conference announcing the indictment against her, questions for the U.S. Attorney kept circling back to how long this case has been underway and why now?
“An eye was being kept” on Maxwell was about all that Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, would say, and that cases like these — especially about events that happened decades ago — are hard to put together. (These specific charges relate to events between 1994 and 1997.) That will likely be as much explanation as we’re going to get right now.
Ben: Jeffrey Epstein famously ran with a boldface-name crowd. And when he was arrested, there was lots of talk about how nervous the A-listers in his orbit might be about what he would reveal to the authorities (President Trump and Bill Clinton were two names who came up a lot in this conversation). Epstein, of course, ended up committing suicide last summer. With Maxwell now in custody, do you think there’s potential for a new raft of secrets to be revealed?
Matthew: I suspect there’s probably some anxiety in some corners of the world about that. Maxwell was well-known in rich and powerful social circles in New York, London, and around the world — she’s got a tabloid Zelig quality. (People love passing around the photo of her at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.) Since last year, her lawyers have fought hard to keep as much information suppressed as possible, and prevented the unsealing of hundreds of pages of documents from a previous civil court case, brought by alleged Epstein victim Virginia Roberts Giuffre. Could new secrets come out now? Very possibly. Strauss didn’t rule out the possibility of Maxwell providing testimony against others, despite indicting her on two charges of perjury. “People can go on from there and become cooperators — I’m not concerned about that,” Strauss said this afternoon. “In the event she were to become a cooperator, we can deal with that.”
Ben: Do you think there are other people who were involved in the actual mechanics of the Epstein operation who could still be charged?
Matthew: It’s hard to say, and I don’t think anyone would want to rule it out. Victims’ allegations over the years have mentioned a number of assistants and associates in Epstein’s circle, and he had a number of loyal professionals, like lawyers, who worked with and for him for many years. But Maxwell stands accused not only of arranging, transporting, and grooming young girls, but of being directly implicated in their sexual abuse as well, and some of the alleged abuse took place in her home in London, in addition to Epstein properties in New York, Florida, and New Mexico. That, on top of the fact that she was so publicly associated with Epstein and his predations, makes her a very big fish. At the press conference today, the assistant director of the FBI, William F. Sweeney, called her “one of the villains of this investigation,” in no uncertain terms.
Ben: Strauss made a point of saying her office welcomes hearing from other victims, whenever they were victimized. Could Maxwell’s arrest bring more stories out of the woodwork?
Matthew: SDNY, the district court prosecuting the case, certainly seems open to it. Strauss called combating the exploitation of children a special priority for her office, and asked anyone watching or aware of the prosecution who believes she was a victim of Epstein and Maxwell to come forward, offering the witness and victim services of the FBI. She took care to thank and commend the “brave women” who had already done so, “without whom these charges could not have been brought today.” They have three anonymous victims in the initial indictment, but the onrush of Epstein coverage over the last year has brought out a number of other accusers. More could well follow.