The Jeffrey Epstein scandal that is heating up the White House
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PAUL CONNEW on the chilling effect that the Jeffrey Epstein case is having on Washington.
It is already being billed the 'Epstein Equation' on Capitol Hill. The theory that the case involving allegations of sex trafficking of minors against Donald Trump's former close buddy and party playmate Jeffrey Epstein could add up to a serious threat to the president's 2020 re-election prospects.
Epstein, a former college maths teacher turned billionaire financier, is facing a string of paedophilia sex abuse cases and is also accused of witness tampering via bribes and threats.
The problem for the president is that the Epstein case is set to both fascinate and horrify the public and dominate US media coverage during the build-up to the 2020 vote and revive the focus on Trump's sexual history and misogyny.
It has already cost the president one of the senior figures in his cabinet with the resignation of Labour secretary Alex Acosta. He had been the Florida prosecutor who, a decade ago, struck a now discredited sweetheart deal with Epstein that allowed him to plead guilty to lesser charges, avoid a federal prosecution and serve a 13-month jail sentence under which he was allowed to go into his office and run his business six days a week.
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It meant that scores of victims of 66-year-old Epstein, who counted former president Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew among his friends and house guests, were denied their day in court and were not even advised of the soft sentence deal - itself a breach of the law.
The appointment of the relatively obscure Florida attorney to Trump's cabinet in the first place was always something of a mystery and Congress is now demanding that he faces questions at a hearing next month.
Democrat election strategists and the #MeToo movement were already gearing up to make Trump's sexual history and treatment of women a significant weapon in the fight to thwart his re-election, and the Epstein Equation plays conveniently into that strategy.
So does the slew of outstanding accusations of historical sexual assaults against Trump by a number of women - all of which he denies. In some cases the president's lawyers are fighting to prevent any civil actions going to court until after he's left office.
The 'Epstein Effect', according to a White House source, even influenced the president's vitriolic backlash against Britain's US ambassador Sir Kim Darroch earlier this month, over the diplomat's leaked briefings.
The president was angry over Darroch's deeply unflattering opinions of him but was initially inclined to follow advice not to overreact. But, so the source claims, as the Epstein affair came to dominate the US news cycle, he felt compelled to offer a diversion.
What had rattled Trump in particular was a mass media revisiting of a 2002 New York magazine article headlined "Jeffrey Epstein: International Moneyman of Mystery" which included a taped interview with the future president in which Trump declared: "I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It's even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side."
Photos in the media of Epstein socialising with Trump at the president's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and in Manhattan in the late 1990s and early 2000s didn't improve The Donald's mood. Neither did the emergence of various former business associates and rivals in the US media alleging that the Trump/Epstein friendship and "partying" went much further than the president acknowledges.
Officially, Trump's line is that he has nothing to fear from the new legal scandal surrounding Epstein and that the pair fell out by 2007, with Epstein barred from Mar-a-Lago and ostracised by the Trump family.
The president's associates are also eager to suggest that Bill Clinton has more questions to answer about his past links to Epstein and, thus, that the Democrats should be wary of overplaying their hand by bringing the Epstein Equation into the 2020 campaign battleground.
On both sides of the political divide, there is great anticipation of what investigators may have discovered in a safe packed with photographs, diaries, documents and address books seized from Epstein's Manhattan mansion.
The new Epstein prosecution is being handled by the same formidable Southern District of New York team who nailed Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen - a man apparently prepared from his Otisville, New York, prison cell to tell investigators what he knows about the Trump/Epstein connection.
The prosecution team is said to be armed with a long list of Epstein accusers, some as young as 14 and 15 at the time of the alleged offences, who are only too willing to go into the witness box and give evidence, not just against Epstein himself but on just how familiar some of his famous and powerful friends were with his perverted proclivities.
Despite Trump's diversionary tactics, and insistence he has nothing to fear, Republican election strategists and the GOP hierarchy are bracing themselves for the 'Epstein Equation' posing a tricky, unpredictable problem in the complex maths of hanging onto the White House next year.
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