Perversion of Justice review: how Julie K Brown brought Jeffrey Epstein down

In Perversion of Justice, Julie K Brown recounts the plight of the victims of the deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein and, allegedly, his sometime girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, and how both avoided life-altering prosecution for a decade and more.

The author is a reporter at the Miami Herald. In November 2018, her three-part series injected Epstein into the public’s conscience, leading to sex-trafficking charges. For her work, Brown won a Polk award.

She tracked down more than 60 women who claimed to be victims of abuse, and delivered the back story on an all-too-cozy relationship between prosecutors and Epstein’s lawyers.

A sample headline: “How a future Trump cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime.”

Days after Epstein’s arrest in July 2019, that cabinet member, Alexander Acosta, Donald Trump’s labor secretary, was forced to resign his post.

In 1994, Acosta clerked for Samuel Alito, then an intermediate federal appellate judge, now a supreme court justice. In the 2000s, during the administration of George W Bush, when Epstein was first charged, Acosta was the US attorney for the southern district of Florida. His remit included Palm Beach.

Another Brown headline: “Even from jail, sex abuser manipulated the system. His victims were kept in the dark.”

Under the deal done by Acosta, Epstein was technically imprisoned but cleared for work release. That was more about keeping an eye on his own finances – and as it turned out continuing his criminal behavior – than community service.

With her book, Brown provides a vomit-inducing guide to how a criminal with deep pockets and zealous lawyers repeatedly manipulated and circumvented the American criminal justice system. And how his victims never stood a chance.

In Brown’s telling, two nationally prominent legal figures, Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, stand atop Epstein’s legal heap. One chapter is titled Starr Power, another Dershowitz v Brown. Both are spotlight moments.

In the 1990s, Starr supplied congressional Republicans with the legal fuel to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. “Starr’s a freak,” Trump told Maureen Dowd in 1999. “I bet he’s got something in his closet.”

In the 2000s, Starr and his minions at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis drove a deal with prosecutors that would keep Epstein out of federal custody until 2019.

In 2016, Starr left his post as president of Baylor, as the Texas college grappled with a rape scandal. In 2020, Starr joined Trump’s defense in his first impeachment.

Dershowitz is now an 82-year-old former Harvard law professor. Back in the 2000s, he negotiated a “non-prosecution agreement” which permitted Epstein to do little more than a year in a local Florida jail, under the most comfortable conditions.

The legal scholar, who also represented Trump at his first impeachment trial, is now suing Netflix in connection with Filthy Rich, a series based on Brown’s reporting. Whether Dershowitz simply received a massage at Epstein’s house from a “large Russian woman” while keeping his underwear on, or had sex with one or more underage girls, is a point of contention. He denies all wrongdoing. Furthermore, he and Virginia Giuffre, an Epstein victim, are suing each other for defamation in federal court in Manhattan.

William Barr also appears in Epstein’s life. Why not?

Epstein graduated from high school at 16 but never finished college. Regardless, Donald Barr, father to Trump’s second attorney general, gave Epstein his first job, as a math teacher at the Dalton school on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. The elder Barr, as it happens, also wrote Space Relations, a gothic novel from 1973 that contains alien sex.

As reported by the Herald and repeated by Brown, one Dalton alumna, Karin Williams, recalled that “Epstein was considered a little creepy”. Another remarked: “You could see how maybe he was looking for young nymphs.”

The younger Barr’s law firm – Kirkland & Ellis – came to represent Epstein, a fact which eventually led to Barr’s recusal from the case as attorney general to Trump. Epstein hanged himself in federal custody: on Barr’s watch.

Brown pays attention to social connections. Once upon a time, Trump said Epstein was “a lot of fun to be with” and “a terrific guy” and marvelled at his interest in underage girls. According to Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Trump, Epstein and Tom Barrack – a businessmen went on to chair Trump’s inauguration then, this week, to be indicted and bailed on lobbying charges – were a “1980s and 90s set of nightlife Musketeers”.

Ultimately, Trump and Epstein parted ways. The predator wasn’t good for business. But there was a coda. Standing in the White House press room nearly two decades later, Trump told reporters he wished Maxwell “well”.

Epstein was a Democrat and came to befriend Bill Clinton. In Giuffre’s telling, the other living impeached president visited Epstein’s island in the Caribbean with two young girls and flew on Epstein’s plane. Clinton vehemently denies it.

Infamously, Prince Andrew was another Epstein buddy. So was Harvey Weinstein, until the two men reportedly had a falling out over Weinstein allegedly abusing one of Epstein’s “favorite” girls. Like Epstein, Claus von Bulow and OJ Simpson, Weinstein came to be represented by Dershowitz.

Brown reminds us the rich and powerful can act badly. As if we didn’t know.

Epstein is dead. Maxwell, his alleged partner in crime, faces trial in Manhattan. The opening sentence of the operative indictment says plenty: “The charges set forth herein stem from the role of Ghislaine Maxwell, the defendant, in the sexual exploitation and abuse of multiple minor girls by Jeffrey Epstein.” She denies the charges.

The coroner said Epstein killed himself. Apparently, Brown isn’t completely convinced. One chapter is titled Jeffrey Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself and the book chronicles the inconsistencies surrounding his death. Brown wishes someone would examine “how and why” Epstein died.

Regardless of whether Epstein killed himself or not, he left a world of carnage. But for Julie K Brown, he would quite likely have beaten the rap.

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