Jurisprudence

Why Is Ghislaine Maxwell’s Defense So Intent on Talking About Jeffrey Epstein’s Famous Friends?

Day two of the trial.

A courtroom illustration of witness "Jane" testifying, holding a tissue over her eyes, crying, with the judge in the background as Ghislaine Maxwell looks on
Witness “Jane” testifies during day two of Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial. Reuters/Jane Rosenberg

It was a little past 11 a.m. on day two of the Ghislaine Maxwell trial when the words “former president Bill Clinton” made their first appearance in the courtroom. Minutes after, the name Les Wexner—described by a defense attorney as the “billionaire owner of The Limited”—also made its way into the official record. One hour later, the following question was posed to a witness: “Are you familiar with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York?” And then came a flurry of name drops that included Donald Trump, John Glenn, Kevin Spacey, and Chris Tucker.

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This was all during the testimony of Lawrence Visoski, the longtime pilot for Jeffrey Epstein. Visoski was the government’s first witness, and he seemed to be there, in part, simply to describe Epstein’s many residences—his Palm Beach estate, New York City mansion, Santa Fe ranch, Paris apartment, and private island in the Caribbean. The prosecution displayed photos of each opulent home as Visoski walked us through their floor plans in great detail. His testimony functioned like a series of establishing shots, setting the scene so we’d have some sort of context once the allegations began.

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The prosecution seemed intent on revealing the scope of Epstein’s wealth. Questions focused on the grandeur of the properties (all huge and opulent), on how often Epstein visited them via private flights (he flitted between them constantly), and on the size of the retinue that accompanied him wherever he went (multiple assistants, chefs, hangers-on, etc.). I imagine the prosecution has two motives here: First, it hopes to paint Epstein as a powerful man, intimidating, able to make dreams come true—and, more to the point, very hard to say no to if you were a naïve teenage girl. It also aims to evoke the sumptuous lifestyle Ghislaine Maxwell could enjoy, as long as she did Epstein’s bidding.

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After this portrait of Epstein’s luxurious lifestyle was complete, the prosecution moved on to asking Visoski about his flight manifests. These are lists of passengers Visoski recorded as having traveled on the planes when he was the pilot. We haven’t seen these lists, but the prosecution has hinted that they will include the names of accusers, which could be vital in proving charges that Maxwell arranged transport for underage women with illegal intent.

The government didn’t bother to mention the celebrity passengers on these flights. And so far in the trial, it has shown very little interest in revealing which rich men Jeffrey Epstein hung out with. But the defense team seems quite eager to open this can of dudes. When the time came to cross-examine Visoski, defense attorney Christian Everdell went there, listing off a bunch of well-known folks so Visoski could confirm they were in Epstein’s orbit.

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Why does the defense want Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, and others to play roles in this story? Not clear yet. But Maxwell’s lawyers wouldn’t be asking about these men if there weren’t some specific purpose in mind. It could be as simple as pushing the notion that these flights could not possibly have involved any monkey business given that famous people with reputations to protect were involved. Or it could be a way of making Epstein look like a man way too important and successful to be connected with such yucky stuff. Perhaps you feel that these particular guys are not associations that speak well of Epstein. But the defense could be betting that the jury is less informed about these men, and more easily wowed by the mention of royalty, presidents, and movie stars. That’s just one guess. Where this thread is leading remains to be seen.

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By the end of Visoski’s testimony, I got the strong sense that his allegiance is still with Maxwell, and maybe even with Epstein. He flew Epstein’s planes for nearly 30 years, right up until Epstein got arrested in 2019. He said that in that time he’d never hesitated to let his young daughters be around Epstein and Maxwell. And he said that if he’d ever had an “inkling” that Epstein was sexually abusing minors, “I would have quit my job.” That last part is puzzling, given that he didn’t quit his job after Epstein was convicted of soliciting a minor for prostitution in 2008. Maybe the fact that Epstein paid for the college education of both Visoski’s daughters, and gifted Visoski 40 acres of land in New Mexico, helped the pilot suppress any incipient inkles. As Upton Sinclair said, “​​It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

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When Visoski was done, the government called its second witness. To protect her privacy, she is being referred to by the pseudonym “Jane.” She was the first of four accusers we expect to hear from over the course of the trial.

Jane testified that in the summer of 1994, when she was 14 years old and about to start eighth grade, she was eating ice cream with friends at a picnic table when two adults approached her. The pair—a man and woman she assumed were a married couple—initiated a conversation with her, lingered for a while, and then asked her for her phone number before they left. These adults, Jane says now, were Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. A few weeks later, they called her up and invited her to Epstein’s home in Palm Beach.

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Nothing terrible happened the first time she visited. Or the next few times. They chatted with her about her life and her aspirations, took her shopping and to movies. They made her feel “special.” Her father had died of leukemia not long before, and her family had been bankrupted by medical bills, so the money Epstein often handed her as she left his house came in handy.

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And then one day Epstein grabbed her by the hand, took her to a private room, and, she claims, sexually abused her. After that, she says, she was abused almost every time she visited Epstein’s house. She alleges that Epstein would touch her with his hands and with vibrators, and would make her touch him. She alleges that sometimes Ghislaine Maxwell would be there, taking part in the abuse, and that there were also orgies involving Epstein, Maxwell, Jane, and other women. She says that this happened not just in Palm Beach but in Epstein’s homes in New York City and New Mexico, and that it continued for years.

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The testimony was disturbing to hear. Jane cried as she spoke, and her voice broke when she described Epstein summoning her to his room. “I felt my heart sinking in my stomach,” she said, shaking. “I did not want to go see him.”

When cross-examination began, the defense immediately set about trying to discredit Jane. The trial ended for the day before Maxwell’s team could get too far, but there are indications they will attack Jane’s memory, her honesty, and her motives, suggesting that she only accused Epstein after she learned she could benefit financially from doing so. (She received $2.9 million from the victim fund that was created out of Epstein’s estate.)

There were many objections to the defense’s line of questions, and proceedings came to a halt as the judge and attorneys sorted things out. During the long pause, the split-screen view of the closed-circuit feed showed both Jane and Ghislaine, waiting for the trial to resume. They did not appear to look in each other’s direction.

Earlier in the trial:

Day one: Ghislaine Maxwell’s Trial Opens With Her Lawyer Diving Straight Into the Muck

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