Monday, July 8, 2024

Unsealed docs in a lawsuit tied to late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein bring an ugly episode back to life and raise new questions about Epstein's ties to GOP presidential candidate, convicted felon Donald Trump

Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein seem to have spotted something (NBC)

Donald Trump's name is mentioned prominently in recently released documents from a lawsuit connected to the criminal case of the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, according to a joint report from Business Insider (BI) and Yahoo News

BI's legal affairs correspondent Jacob Shamsian provides details under the headline "The newly unsealed Jeffrey Epstein documents have Donald Trump's name all over them. He had been secretly disguised as 'Doe 174.'"

Over recent weeks, thousands of pages of court documents in a Jeffrey Epstein-linked lawsuit have been unsealed.

The documents name about 170 people who have come up in a legal battle between Virginia Giuffre, one of his accusers, and Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's  former girlfriend who in 2021 was convicted of trafficking girls to him for sex.

Before now, the documents had been either fully under seal or partially redacted. Each of the roughly 170 people — a mix of Epstein's wealthy friends, his victims, and other people merely mentioned in passing — had been identified as a "J. Doe" in arguments over whether the documents should be made public.

Donald Trump is one of them. But until now, it wasn't clear which of the nearly 200 Does — as enumerated by US District Judge Loretta Preska in a 50-page list — he actually was.

An exhaustive review of the documents by Business Insider points to one no-longer-anonymous Doe who checks all the boxes: Doe 174.

The judge's determination about releasing information came down to a battle of competing legal rights, Shamsian reports:

In deciding whether to make the names on the list public, Preska weighed any privacy rights the Does might have against the public's right to access judicial documents. The newly unsealed documents include new excerpts of deposition transcripts and other legal filings where Trump's name is now revealed.

Preska's list identifies Doe 174 as a person whose "association with Epstein and Maxwell has been widely reported in the media already, and his or her name came up during Maxwell's public criminal trial."

The former president Trump fits that bill as someone who had a long history with the now dead pedophile and who said "I wish her well" when Maxwell was indicted on sex-trafficking charges.

Trump also came up several times during Maxwell's trial. One of his Mar-a-Lago employees testified about an Epstein victim working at Mar-a-Lago. Flight records made public on the trial showed Trump flew on Epstein's plane with his son Eric. And one victim at the trial said Epstein name-dropped Trump, apparently to demonstrate that he was connected to powerful people.

The newly unsealed filings have shed more light on Epstein's connections to some of the most powerful people in the world. They detail some of his connections to former President Bill Clinton and sexual misconduct accusations against Prince Andrew, which the British royal has denied.

But in her ruling, Preska said Doe 174's name came up in nine different documents that were previously under seal or had their name redacted.

As of our most recent publication deadline, three of those documents had not yet been completely unredacted. But Trump does fit into the context of those documents.

The other six documents that had been unsealed all include Trump's name, too, and no other Doe is listed as being named in all those same docket entries.

It's unclear whether Trump fought to keep his identity under seal in the documents.

In her December order to unseal the names, Preska said some Does didn't argue to keep their identities secret. For Doe 36, who's Bill Clinton, for example, Preska wrote that he didn't object to having his name unsealed.

"This individual did not raise any objection to unsealing, and thus did not meet his or her burden of identifying interests that outweigh the presumption of access with specificity," Preska wrote of Doe 36.

Preska used the same language in her rulings for more than one-third of the Does on the list to describe their lack of objection.

But she did not include that note in her ruling for Doe 174, instead writing that "no interests that outweigh the presumption of access have been identified with specificity."

"This material should be unsealed in full," Preska ruled.

The released documents are a mixed bag for Trump, although his attorneys are trying their best to shield him from media exposure that could come with rebirth of he Epstein case. Shamsian writes:

The unsealed documents are not all damning for Trump.

Two of the unsealed documents the judge said named Doe 174 are from a deposition of Johanna Sjoberg, who has accused Epstein of rape and Prince Andrew of groping her (the British royal has denied the claims).

In the deposition, Sjoberg denied massaging Trump at any of Epstein's properties. She also described flying to Atlantic City in Epstein's private jet, where they visited one of Trump's casinos.

"Jeffrey said, Great, we'll call up Trump, and we'll go to — I don't recall the name of the casino, but — we'll go to the casino," Sjoberg recalled in the deposition.

Another document, which was fully unsealed in 2022, is an already-public 2016 New York Post article about the allegations against Epstein. It mentions that Trump and Epstein were friends and spent time at parties together in Palm Beach.

The three other unsealed documents are motions and letters from lawyers representing Epstein and Alan Dershowitz, where Trump is mentioned in passing.

"Mr. Epstein's name has been widely linked in the press with prominent individuals such as Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew," Trump's  attorneys wrote in a motion arguing that he should not be forced to testify in front of a jury, later adding: "His personal appearance at the trial of this case would predictably be the focus of massive media attention, of both the mainstream and gutter variety."

The unsealed documents reveal that Trump already has cozied up to the gutter in the Epstein matter.  Shamsian writes:

One unsealed document from a lawyer representing Dershowitz seeks to discredit one of his accusers, Sarah Ransome, by saying she has made unproven claims about possessing video footage of powerful people having sex with girls in Epstein's homes. Ransome had said that she had a friend who was "one of the many girls that had sexual relations with Donald Trump" and that the friend said she had sex with Trump in Epstein's Manhattan mansion.

"She told me how he kept going on about how he liked her 'pert nipples,'" Ransome said, purporting to cite a friend. "Donald Trump liked flicking and sucking her nipples until they were raw."

Ransome later recanted her claims about having the video footage. In her book Silenced No More: Surviving My Journey to Hell and Back, she said she told the false story as a sort of insurance policy, though she maintained that "Jeffrey kept a trove of surveillance on every person who had ever visited his properties."

"I was absolutely terrified that, once I went public with my story, Jeffrey and Ghislaine would find and kill me," Ransome wrote in her book. "I wanted to send them a message via the press: if you wage war on me, I will return fire by releasing my evidence. That would be my leverage, my way of protecting myself."

While three of the nine documents naming Doe 174 have not yet been fully unsealed, the public docket includes versions with some redactions.

It's easy to see where Trump fits into them. They are all transcripts of depositions from Ransome, Giuffre, and Epstein's Palm Beach housekeeper Juan Alessi, all of whom were asked about Epstein's relationships with celebrities and other powerful people.

"I saw guests at the house that were celebrities," Alessi told the attorney deposing him.

"Who did you see at the house?" the attorney asked.

Alessi's answer, as of our most recent deadline, remained redacted.

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