Hillary Clinton had +300 odds. Jared Kushner was at +2,000. You could bet more broadly on the presence of “any current congressman.” A several-years-old half-joke was spreading anew, and the gambling site BetOnline seemed to see an opportunity. In late December, the company listed high-profile politicians, actors, and athletes and their odds of showing up on what has come to be known, mostly through force of repetition, as “the Epstein list.”
A few days earlier, a federal judge had ordered the unsealing of about 240 documents related to a lawsuit that Virginia Giuffre, an outspoken victim of Jeffrey Epstein’s extensive sexual abuse, filed against Ghislaine Maxwell in 2015. After Maxwell, the financier’s ex-girlfriend who would later be convicted of facilitating his predation, called Giuffre a liar, Giuffre sued the British socialite for defamation. They settled in 2017—when Epstein was infamous but not yet at the saturation point of global notoriety—and the case was largely sealed. Two years later, after reporting by the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown brought Epstein’s crimes to their place at the center of a storm of continuing intrigue, Brown and the paper succeeded in an appeal to have materials from the Giuffre suit released. They were joined in the effort by right-wing conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and attorney and longtime Epstein associate Alan Dershowitz.
A first batch of documents was unsealed in August 2019, the day before Epstein died by suicide in a federal jail while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. His arrest that July and the intrigue surrounding his death became a blockbuster international news story and turned him into an emblem for the sins of the wealthy and powerful. By the time US district judge Loretta Preska ruled last month that the names of 187 “J. Does” who appeared in documents related to the Giuffre suit would be released, tabloid anticipation was fervent. The order, carrying a list of pseudonymous people and an invocation of sealed legal materials, compounded some of the prevailing senses simmering around the case.
“Bill Clinton to be unmasked as ‘Doe 36’ and identified more than 50 times in Jeffrey Epstein doc dump,” read one New York Post headline that preceded the tabloid’s live blog about the unveiling of the list.
“It’s supposed to be coming out soon,” New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers said with a grin on ESPN last week, tapping into the space the Does list had come to occupy in pop culture as he used it as fodder for his ongoing feud with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who he falsely insinuated would be on the list. Kimmel threatened legal action, ESPN apologized, and Rodgers said in his next appearance on the network that he didn’t mean to suggest that Kimmel was a “P-word.” Rodgers’s accusation and Kimmel’s response created their own sports-media news cycle that continued well into this week.
The notion of an “Epstein list” as hidden but singular evidence of elite malfeasance has taken a particular hold on the far right, where the involvement of Clinton adds to the perception of retributive potential. “I’m pleased that this court agrees with my calls for transparency and accountability on Epstein and his associates,” Republican senator Marsha Blackburn wrote on X after Preska’s order. “There will be lots of names you’ve never heard of,” Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote. “Pedophiles belong in jail not on secret government lists.”
BetOnline eventually removed its odds offerings, but by then the site had captured the tenor of the loudest expectations.
When Preska ordered the unsealing, she listed a rationale for the presence of each newly unredacted name that would appear in the documents. A few reasons appeared throughout: the Doe hadn’t bothered objecting to the unsealing; there wouldn’t be any salacious material about the Doe; the material about the Doe had already been covered in the press. In instances where the Doe’s name remained redacted, it was often because they were an underage victim of sexual abuse.
Epstein’s abuse took place over the course of decades, and he left behind scores of victims as he cultivated relationships with what could be called, without wading into conspiracy, a subset of the global elite: a former president, a future president, a British royal, an American retail billionaire. The broad story of his crimes contains some significant remaining questions—how did he get all his money, and how did he maintain his sway over the wealthy businessmen who bankrolled him or else stood by him?
But then there’s the list. The details of Epstein’s and Maxwell’s lives have continued to provide red meat to conspiracists, and even acquired a kind of fashionability on account of the pair’s brushes with sordid glamour. Interest in the scandal, with its mixture of wealth, fame, and sex trafficking, has often involved the idea that a break in the case would reveal the names of the powerful men to whom Epstein provided victims.
When the documents began to emerge last week, most of the names had appeared before in the last several years of Epstein coverage. The details largely echoed portions of what had already been known about his abuse. More often than not, the anticipated files were depositions of his victims.
As news outlets and online enthusiasts tore through the pages, the involvement of bold-faced names tended to stick out. Tabloids homed in on how one Epstein accuser, Johanna Sjoberg, claimed in a 2016 deposition that “he said one time that Clinton likes them young, referring to girls.” Clinton had been without objection to the unsealing. In response to press inquiries this week, his spokesperson referred to a 2019 statement saying that “President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York.” It added that Clinton had “not spoken to Epstein in well over a decade” and that he had “never been to Little St. James Island, Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico, or his residence in Florida.”