The Current

Jeffrey Epstein case suggests a 'panoply of different powerful men covering for each other': Molly Jong-Fast

Writer Molly Jong-Fast thinks the allegations of sex trafficking against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein point to a wider problem of power and corruption in society. "This has been a sort of panoply of different powerful men covering for each other," she said.

Wealthy businessman has pleaded not guilty to allegations he sexually abused dozens of underage girls

Wealthy businessman Jeffrey Epstein, seen here in 2008, is facing new sex-trafficking charges alleging he abused dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s. He has pleaded not guilty. (Palm Beach Post/Uma Sanghvi/The Associated Press)
Listen19:20

Read Story Transcript

Writer Molly Jong-Fast believes the allegations of sex trafficking against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein point to a wider problem of power and corruption in society.

"This has been a sort of panoply of different powerful men covering for each other," said Jong-Fast, a contributor to the Daily Beast and The Bulwark.

Epstein, 66, is a multimillionaire hedge fund manager whose friends have included U.S. President Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew and high-profile lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

He was arrested Saturday at an airport near New York after his private jet touched down from France. On Monday, U.S. federal prosecutors accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls — some as young as 14 — between 2002 and 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to sex-trafficking charges.  

The Miami Herald has reported that Epstein signed a secret plea deal in a 2008 Florida case that allowed him to plead guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under age 18 for prostitution.

Under the deal — overseen by former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and current Labour Secretary Alex Acosta — Epstein averted a possible life sentence and served 13 months in jail. He was also required to make payments to dozens of his victims and register as a sex offender.

Acosta defended the controversial plea deal on Tuesday, saying it meant Epstein would receive guaranteed jail time, instead of "a roll of the dice" with a trial.

Jong-Fast spoke to The Current's guest host Katie Simpson about why she thinks it's time to pursue the people who commit or enable this abuse, and hold them to account. Here is part of their conversation.

Molly Jong-Fast believes if survivors keep coming forward, abusers will eventually be held accountable. (Submitted by Jessica DeFeo)

Jeffrey Epstein's wealth and his political connections, you know, when you take a look at this deal he was able to get in 2008, how did that all play together?

In some ways, Epstein is a great metaphor for the problems that America has with #MeToo, which is we want to hold these powerful men accountable. But the system is set up in such a way that it's very hard to do that.

And I mean, if you think about it, we have a man in the White House who has 16 allegations of sexual assault. We are not a country that has been great at holding powerful men accountable, even if there has been a lot of media that said that. We haven't ultimately been able to do it. 

And Epstein is a great example of that. You know, I think he got a pass. I think some of this, I believe, is he hired powerful lawyers who went and just did everything they could to intimidate witnesses. 

This has been a sort of panoply of different powerful men covering for each other. What I think is interesting, and actually Jonathan Swan of Axios tweeted this and wrote about this, and I was impressed by this. He said: "What we should do now, now that Epstein has been held accountable, we should find every man who enabled this. And find them and hold them accountable too."

Former U.S. federal prosecutor Roland Riopelle believes the new charges brought against Jeffrey Epstein by the Department of Justice are to compensate for the 'improperly light' sentence imposed on Epstein previously in Florida. 7:42

You talk about that lack of accountability, but as you mentioned there have been a number of allegations made against U.S. President Donald Trump. For his part, he's denying them ... My next question is about the lack of, sort of, consequences.

A conversation that I've had with my mother is, you know, as a Canadian watching all the stuff that's going on in the United States — and we hear all these stories and all these things — and she says, "but does it matter? Are there any consequences for these kinds of things?" I know that's a strange question, but does it matter?

Well it's not a strange question, and it's a question that the American people are bumping up against again and again. 

Some of it is because we have this president, who has all these allegations and even the way it's covered … just two weeks ago E. Jean Carroll came out with an allegation that the president raped her. Right, raped her. And E. Jean Carroll is a famous writer, who's written for a number of American magazines. And you saw the media coverage didn't really know what to do. They even said things like, they led with, "The president denies..." And it's one of these situations where you have more than a dozen women have come out against him. 

Demonstrators hold up placards of Epstein in front of a federal courthouse in New York on Monday. (Getty Images)

I believe actually that eventually this does catch up, this will catch up, that we will eventually be in a more just society where people will be punished for their crimes. Now whether or not Trump is punished, I can't speak to that. You know, he's the president. It's very complicated. 

But the one thing we should take some heart in is that Jeffrey Epstein is in jail today. He's in jail. He got off his private jet and he went right into the Manhattan Correctional Center. And if nothing else, that should be a sign to women that if you come forward, sooner or later, we will be able. 

The moral arc of the universe bends towards justice — it's just, in America it takes a little longer.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from Sheena Goodyear, The Associated Press and Thompson Reuters. Produced by Howard Goldenthal, Allie Jaynes, Richard Raycraft. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.