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The Ghislaine Maxwell Trial Is Already Almost Over

And we’re no closer to unraveling Jeffrey Epstein’s secrets.

A verdict could come as soon as the last week of December. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Jane Rosenberg/Reuters
A verdict could come as soon as the last week of December. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

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You knew this in your heart, but it’s probably safe to say that we won’t be hearing from Ghislaine Maxwell at her trial.

That means we’ll be left with a huge mess of unanswered questions about the world of Jeffrey Epstein. We gathered some smart people, including Julie Brown of the Miami Herald, who has been digging into Epstein for years now, to explore some of those questions: Was he a blackmailer? Was he a spy? Why did so many rich and famous people continue to interact with a convicted sex offender? And what about Bill Clinton?

I don’t agree with every conclusion, but I hope you’ll read — and let us know what else you’re curious about.

What happened this week? (Nothing!)

Proceedings resumed today after a three-day break. During the hiatus, Alison Nathan, the judge in the Maxwell trial, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about her nomination to the Second Circuit. That hearing featured a lot of nasty grandstanding about “judicial activism” and gun rights and the death penalty from Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn. “When litigants appear before you, how do they know that you’re not going to exercise some of your political activism as you look at their case?” Senator Blackburn asked. “Looking at your record, I’m concerned,” confessed Senator Cruz, who cited Nathan’s “predictably knee-jerk left-wing views.” (He didn’t actually attest to what those might be.) It was ugly and theatrical, but mostly it was sad to see senators try to stunt on a judge who is well-known for vigorously defending constitutional rights.

What’s next?

Right now, we expect roughly three short days of defense witnesses, with everything possibly wrapping up on Monday. Seems fast, right? There may or may not be a short response from the government, then there will be closing arguments. There probably won’t be time for the jury to deliberate before Christmas, so it’s fuzzily possible a verdict will arrive the last week of December.

It’s hard to know what the jury is thinking. First, I guess I would be horrified to have this front-row seat to Epstein’s world, particularly if I was learning about it for the first time, as they presumably are. Most of the time when you go to jury duty in New York City, the cases you hear are like, “This guy hit his knee on a bodega cellar grate while skateboarding on the sidewalk.” And the jury pool is like, “Well, he’s a damn idiot,” and everyone laughs. This is not that.

Second, I think I would have some trouble connecting all those horrors about Epstein to the charges against Maxwell. Still, a couple moments of testimony really landed — accusers discussing how Maxwell befriended them as girls and handed them to Epstein or recalling when Maxwell directly paid them off after an assault.

You want predictions? Don’t listen to anyone. Juries are unpredictable, as lawyers keep reminding me, and getting a group of New Yorkers to agree entirely on anything? No thanks!

One Jeffrey Epstein doesn’t indicate the existence of a hundred Jeffrey Epsteins.

Last week, The Atlantic published some reporting about America’s great child-trafficking panic. “All over the country,” Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote, “well-meaning Americans are convinced that human trafficking — and specifically child sex trafficking — is happening right in their backyard, or at any rate no farther away than the nearest mall parking lot.” The phrases “We have to wake up America” or “Save the children” are now code words for QAnon-adjacent soldiers who concoct Facebook-friendly horror stories about celebrities and elites running child sex rings.

Among other things, they spread false information about child abduction. Believers in this particular flavor of big pedophile conspiracy have circled the Maxwell trial too; some were associated with a rally at the courthouse.

Jeffrey Epstein spent a significant amount of his time recruiting children for sex. He held them captive on a private island. He was also intimately connected to rich elites. It’s reasonable that he figures heavily in their demonography.

And if there is one Jeffrey Epstein, it feels reasonable to think, Why aren’t there a hundred? If such a creature as Epstein could exist, surely anything is possible. Why wouldn’t Hillary Clinton be hoarding children in a pizzeria?

That’s where these folks make a mess. They conflate things like Epstein’s world with the larger situation of missing and abducted children, who, most often, have either been kidnapped by a parent or are fleeing the family. Most of the real bad things actually happen at home.

So while there aren’t Epsteins everywhere, young people actually are extensively victimized in America. In just the last few days, the Department of Justice was out there charging a CNN producer with trying to train children in sexual activity; 500-something victims of U.S. gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar at last reached a monetary settlement; and the Boy Scouts raised nearly $3 billion to pay their victims.

The Boy Scouts is in shambles because so many people involved in their leadership were using their power to victimize children. The Scouts were accused of abuse by something like 93,000 people, a number that will make your face melt. Somehow, the Catholic Church has survived, while literally thousands of priests around the world abused children.

Just as with Epstein’s victims, often no one would listen or help. Gymnasts complained about Nassar’s abuse in the 1990s; he was arrested in 2016. Jason Berry started raising alarms about the Catholic Church in 1985. The Boy Scouts kept their own records of abusers for decades, and they weren’t even that secret.

The world of Jeffrey Epstein is captivating and maddening. The Maxwell trial seems like our last chance to find real truths. But our obsessions with him, and the conspiracy theories around who else might be like him, are distracting. The actual extensive abuse of children isn’t happening on private planes or exotic islands, but almost in plain sight, within institutions we once trusted.

Want to know more about the case? Don’t forget to check our FAQ. Write me when you have a question or when you’re sure I’m wrong or dumb! I probably won’t have time to answer every email but will at the very least listen and learn from you.

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The Ghislaine Maxwell Trial Is Already Almost Over