Ken Starr helped Jeffrey Epstein with ‘scorched-earth’ campaign, book claims

Ken Starr, the lawyer who hounded Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, waged a “scorched-earth” legal campaign to persuade federal prosecutors to drop a sex-trafficking case against the billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein relating to the abuse of multiple underaged girls, according to a new book.

In Perversion of Justice the Miami Herald reporter Julie K Brown writes about Starr’s role in securing the secret 2008 sweetheart deal that granted Epstein effective immunity from federal prosecution. The author, who is credited with blowing open the cover-up, calls Starr a “fixer” who “used his political connections in the White House to get the Justice Department to review Epstein’s case”.

The book says that emails and letters sent by Starr and Epstein’s then criminal defense lawyer Jay Lefkowitz show that the duo were “campaigning to pressure the Justice Department to drop the case”. Starr had been brought into “center stage” of Epstein’s legal team because of his connections in Washington to the Bush administration.

Perversion of Justice will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.

When Epstein’s lawyers appeared to be failing in their pressure campaign, with senior DoJ officials concluding that Epstein was ripe for federal prosecution, Starr pulled out the stops. Brown discloses that he wrote an eight-page letter to Mark Filip, who had just been confirmed as deputy US attorney general, the second most powerful prosecutor in the country.

Filip was a former colleague of Starr’s at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Brown writes that Starr deployed “dramatic language” in the letter reminiscent of the Starr report, his lurid and salacious case against Clinton that triggered the president’s 1998 impeachment.

In the letter Starr begins affably, invoking the “finest traditions” of fairness and integrity of the DoJ. He then goes on to deliver what Brown calls a “brutal punch”, accusing prosecutors involved in the Epstein case of misconduct in trying to engineer a plea deal with the billionaire that would benefit their friends.

Brown reports that Epstein’s legal team also went after Marie Villafaña, the lead federal prosecutor in the case, accusing her of similarly distorting negotiations to benefit a friend of her boyfriend – an allegation she denied.

Brown cites an unnamed prosecutor linked to the 2008 case who said of the legal campaign in which Starr was central that “it was a scorched-earth defense like I had never seen before. Marie broke her back trying to do the right thing, but someone was always telling her to back off.”

The prosecutor added that someone in Washington – the book does not specify who – was “calling the shots on the case”. Villafaña warned fellow prosecutors at the time that Epstein was probably still abusing underaged girls, but according to the unnamed prosecutor quoted by Brown “it was clear that she had to find a way to strike a deal because a decision had already been made not to prosecute Epstein.”

The outcome of this process was a secret deal that only became public years later, largely through Brown’s own reporting. Given the number of victims and the severity of the allegations, Epstein got off exceptionally lightly with a sentence that saw him serve just 13 months in jail. During his sentence, Epstein was allowed out to work in his private office for 12 hours a day, six days a week, in a breach of jail norms.

In 2018 Brown published a three-part exposé in the Miami Herald that lifted the lid on the “non-prosecution agreement” that had been reached covering up Epstein’s sex trafficking operation. The reporter managed to identify 80 potential victims, some as young as 13 en 14.

Following Brown’s exposé, a judge ruled that the secret agreement was illegal, opening up the possibility of a renewed federal prosecution. Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges in July 2019 - 11 years after Starr and the rest of his legal team had worked so hard to shield him – and died in jail the following month in what was ruled a suicide.

In the fallout, Alex Acosta, who as Miami’s top federal prosecutor in 2008 had signed off on the Epstein sweetheart deal, was forced to resign as Donald Trump’s labor secretary.

Though Starr’s role in securing the Epstein deal was public knowledge, Brown’s book reveals the lengths that the lawyer was prepared to go to in order to protect from federal justice an accused sexual predator and pedophile. The extent of his involvement is all the more striking given the equally passionate lengths that Starr went to in 1998 to pursue Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice, given the much less serious sexual activity that sparked that investigation.

Starr’s handling of sexual assault scandals has dogged him during other phases in his career. In 2016 he was stripped of the presidency of Baylor University after the institution under his watch failed to take appropriate action over a sexual assault scandal involving 19 football players and at least 17 vroue.

Four years later Starr served as a member of Trump’s legal team in the former president’s first impeachment trial over dealings with Ukraine.

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