Photo: Davidoff Studios Photography/Getty Images
For weeks, speculation has been building about which famous and powerful figures would be tarnished by the Jeffrey Epstein scandal when court documents from a years-old case related to the disgraced financier were made public. And while Epstein’s black book contained a staggering number of A-listers and high-society pals, perhaps the biggest question surrounding the court documents’ unsealing is what they reveal about Donald Trump.
The hype escalated on the afternoon of January 3, when Mark Epstein said that three years before his brother died in jail while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges, he told him he knew secrets that could blow up the presidential election between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“Here’s a direct quote: ‘If I said what I know about both candidates, they’d have to cancel the election.’ That’s what Jeffrey told me in 2016,” Mark Epstein told the New York Post.
Wild stuff! But of course, Mark Epstein said he doesn’t know what information his brother was referring to. And while Trump and Bill Clinton (who have both denied any Epstein-related wrongdoing) are both mentioned in the court documents that were made public a short time later, there was no smoking gun that could have upended a previous presidential race or Trump’s current reelection bid.
But questions about Trump’s ties to Epstein persist, as the convicted sex offender is now a conspiracy-theory fixture, and more court records are set to be released in the coming days and weeks. Here’s a running list of revelations from the newly unsealed documents, and what we’ve already learned about Trump’s friendship with Epstein.
The newly unsealed documents are from Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s settled 2015 defamation lawsuit against Epstein’s former girlfriend Ghislane Maxwell, who is currently serving a 20-year prison term for trafficking women and girls for Epstein to sexually abuse. Giuffre is one of dozens of women, some as young as 14, whom Epstein allegedly abused.
Some documents were blacked out or sealed when the suit was settled in 2017 over privacy concerns. But in December 2023, federal Judge Loretta Preska ruled that most of the records would be made public, as most of the names were already public. The first 40 exhibits, totaling 943 pages, were released on January 3, 2024. (Read about the other figures listed in the new Epstein documents here.)
In emails exchanged with then–New York Post journalist Maureen Callahan in October 2016, Sarah Ransome made a number of explosive allegations against famous men, saying her friend had sex with Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and Richard Branson on multiple occasions. She also said she had videos of the encounters but could not share them without her friend’s permission.
In one of the emails, summarized below by attorneys representing Alan Dershowitz, Ransome said her friend was one of “many girls” Trump had sex with, claimed the friend regularly had sex with Trump at Epstein’s mansion, and shared other NSFW details about Trump’s sexual proclivities:
Ransome’s email that includes the claims about Trump appears later in the document, partially cut off:
In the document, Dershowitz’s attorneys use the emails to portray Ransome as a liar, noting that she made many outlandish claims to the journalist, such as saying she’d reached out to the Russians for help and was “approached, by Special Agents Forces Men sent directly by Hilary [sic] Clinton herself, in order to protect her presidential campaign.” For example:
In her final email to Callahan, Ransome says she wants to “retract everything I have said to you and walk away from this.”
Ransome also told the New Yorker in 2019 that she never had any videos. In her 2021 memoir, Silenced No More, Ransome explained why:
I also told her I had video evidence of public figures participating in Jeffrey and Ghislaine’s pedophile ring. I didn’t. I said I did because I was absolutely terrified that, once I went public with my story, Jeffrey and Ghislaine would find and kill me. 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.
Ransome gave a victim impact statement in federal court at Maxwell’s sentencing that did not specifically mention Trump, or anyone but Epstein and Maxwell.
In short: not much. His name is mentioned only four times, in a May 2016 deposition of Johanna Sjoberg, one of Epstein’s alleged victims, who said she was around him from 2001 to 2006.
Sjoberg said that while flying on one of Epstein’s planes, they made an unplanned stop in Atlantic City and went to “one of Trump’s casinos.” She recalled that when she relayed the pilot’s message that they’d need to land in New Jersey, “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.”
Later, Sjoberg said she never gave Trump a massage.
Trump began palling around with Epstein in the late ’80s but the depth of their friendship is a subject of debate.
Footage unearthed by NBC News in 2019 shows the two men joking around and ogling women during a party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in 1992.
Trump and Epstein were also photographed together in 1992 and 1997. The now famous image below shows Trump and then-girlfriend Melania Knauss partying with Epstein and Maxwell at Mar-a-Lago on February 12, 2000.
Photo: Davidoff Studios Photography/Getty Images
In 2002, the mogul told New York, “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
On January 3, Trump’s spokesperson Steven Cheung offered a terse statement on the new document release, telling Newsweek that any claims about Trump’s relationship with Epstein were “thoroughly debunked.”
In 2016 a woman who went by the pseudonyms “Katie Johnson” and “Jane Doe” in legal filings accused Trump of raping her in 1994, when she was 13, during an orgy held at Epstein’s home in Manhattan. She accused Epstein of raping her as well.
Three suits were filed over the same allegations; the first was dismissed for failure to properly state a claim the other two were voluntarily dismissed. The third case was withdrawn just days before the 2016 election, and the accuser canceled a press conference at the last minute. Her attorney, Lisa Bloom, said the woman had received death threats and “She has decided she is too afraid to show her face … She is in terrible fear.”
The circumstances around the case were bizarre, as Vox summarized at the time:
It was the end of an incredibly strange case that featured an anonymous plaintiff who had refused almost all requests for interviews, two anonymous corroborating witnesses whom no one in the press had spoken to, and a couple of seriously shady characters — with an anti-Trump agenda and a penchant for drama — who had aggressively shopped the story around to media outlets for over a year.
Those shady characters — a former reality TV producer who calls himself “Al Taylor” and a “Never Trump” conservative activist named Steve Baer — had been mostly unsuccessful in getting the media to bite. There are a few very good reasons for that, which the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim succinctly summed up: Taylor and Baer have been really sketchy about the whole thing, and since the accuser is anonymous, journalists can’t do anything to verify her claims. The only journalist who has actually interviewed Johnson, Emily Shugerman at Revelist, came away confused and even doubting whether Johnson really exists.
Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 other women over the years; those women were not underage and their allegations did not involve Epstein. In May 2023 a federal jury found Trump civilly liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll in the mid-1990s, and for defaming her when he denied her rape allegation in 2022. He was ordered to pay Carroll $5 million in damages, and is currently appealing the verdict.
Trump has claimed that he and Epstein had a “falling out” years before the financier was first arrested in Palm Beach in 2005, after he was accused of paying a 14-year-old girl for sex. (Though dozens of other underage girls accused Epstein of sexual abuse at the time, through a 2008 plea deal he served only 13 months in jail in a work-release program).
There are reports that a battle over a choice Palm Beach property ended the friendship, but it’s unclear what exactly came between the two men. Days after Epstein was arrested on federal sex-trafficking charges in 2019, Trump downplayed their relationship while speaking to reporters in the Oval Office. He said he merely “knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him,” adding, “I had a falling out with him. I haven’t spoken to him in 15 years. I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you.”
During an August 2023 interview Tucker Carlson asked Trump if he believes that Epstein killed himself in jail. “I don’t know,” said Trump, who seemed more interested in bashing his former attorney general Bill Barr. After more prodding from Carlson, Trump said he thinks it’s “possible” that Epstein was killed, but “I think he probably committed suicide.”
“Life with beautiful homes, beautiful everything, and all of a sudden he’s incarcerated and not doing well,” Trump said. “A lot of people think he was killed. He knew a lot on a lot of people.” Carlson confirmed he’s among those who believe Epstein “was killed,” and Trump replied that “a case could be made either way.”
This post has been updated.