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U.S. Attorney & FBI on New Epstein Charges; Epstein is Alleged to Have Abused Dozens of Victims by Causing Them to Engage in Sex Acts With Him at His Mansion in New York and at His Estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 8, 2019 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me. We are standing by right now for a news conference out of New York.

Power, money, sex and potentially dozens of underage victims is what this is all about. New charges have just been filed against a billionaire with extensive political connections. His name is Jeffrey Epstein.

He's right now sitting behind bars in New York as he was picked up over the weekend when he landed back in the states on his private jet. Federal prosecutors are any moment expected to lay out the case, they say, they have against him. but the indictment that's been released already gives us an idea.

Victims as young as 14 years old abused for years and even paid to recruit other underage victims. The indictment detailing that, "Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit in locations including New York and Palm Beach". That is from the indictment.

Epstein evaded similar charges a decade ago that focused only in Florida. He avoided serious jail time thanks to a secret plea deal then that he secured with federal prosecutors. Here is the kicker on that one.

The lead federal prosecutor who negotiated that deal, President Trump's current Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is in the room where this press conference is about to begin. CNN National Correspondent Erica Hill is here as well. Shimon first to you. What are we learning already?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: So this press conference is set to get underway in just minutes here Kate. So we'll be learning more information.

The U.S. attorney here Geoffrey Berman is going to take the podium. By his side will be the FBI - the head of the FBI New York Field Office and the prosecutors that have been investigating this for quite some time. And really what we learned today in this 14 page indictment was this network that Epstein had set up, a network of underage girls that he recruited. That he used other girls to recruit some as young as 14.

We learned in this indictment that he had employees, associates - at least three employees who would help him arrange these meetings - these encounters with some of these underage girls in Florida and here at his Upper East Side mansion. All of this alleged in this 14 page indictment took place between 2002 and 2005.

And a lot of questions are going to be asked as to why finally now did this Southern District of New York decided to go ahead and pursue this case. Other questions are going to be asked as to why he was arrested on Saturday. We know that he wasn't supposed to be arrested until this morning, something changed. And for some reason, when he landed here in the New York area on Saturday prosecutors moved in with the FBI and they chose to arrest him.

The other thing is that what we learned in the indictment that these victims - the victims who he concentrated on more were vulnerable. They were vulnerable to exploitation and he took advantage of that. And that is something that certainly prosecutors here are going to talk about.

They're going to ask for the public's help. They want other victims to come forward and you see a sign behind me. There's a phone number for those victims to call. This in no way is over, OK. There's going to be more investigative steps they're going to take place and the FBI with the U.S. attorney here is going to continue to investigate.

BOLDUAN: This is the beginning is what it looks like as they're about to get underway right now. I'm going to bring in Erica Hill, though, until I see them take to the microphone.

Erica, I've seen is the only person named in this indictment. But one thing lingering over this entire case against this billionaire is his connections. He made money in Wall Street. But he is he is connected from everyone from the President to the Clintons to Prince Andrew.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR & NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You mentioned Prince Andrew also former President Bill Clinton who was reportedly on his plane several times, even went to his private island.

And President Trump, who in fact in 2002, told New York magazine about him. He'd known it for 15 years and called him a great guy fantastic - guy rather. I'll tell you more in a minute Kate. I'm going to hand it back to you.

BOLDUAN: Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEOFFREY BERMAN, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: --for the Southern District of New York. Today, we announce the unsealing of sex trafficking charges against Jeffrey Epstein. The charges allege that Epstein sexually abused young girls by enticing them to engage in sex acts for money.

Epstein was arrested this past Saturday evening at Teterboro Airport aboard his private jet that had just landed from Paris, France. Epstein was taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

[11:05:00] And later today he will be presented before a Magistrate Judge Pitman and later a conference before District Court Judge Berman.

The United States attorney's office will take the position at that presentment and that conference that Epstein should be detained pending trial. Epstein is charged into two count indictment. First conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and second the substantive crime of sex trafficking of underage girls.

Beginning in at least 2002 and continuing until 2005, Epstein is alleged to have abused dozens of victims by causing them to engage in sex acts with him at his mansion in New York and at his estate in Palm Beach Florida.

The victims, all underage girls at the time of the alleged conduct, were given hundreds of dollars in cash after each encounter either by Epstein or by one of Epstein's employees. The underage girls were initially recruited to provide Epstein with massages and often did so nude or partially nude.

These massages became increasingly sexual in nature and would typically include one or more sex acts as specified in the indictment. As alleged, Epstein also paid certain victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused. This allowed Epstein to create an ever expanding web of new victims.

This conduct, as alleged, went on for years and it involved dozens of young girls, some as young as 14 years old at the time that they were allegedly abused. As alleged, Epstein was well aware that many of his victims were minors. And not surprisingly, many of the underage girls that Epstein allegedly victimized were particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The alleged behavior shocks the conscience. And while the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, it is still profoundly important to the many alleged victims now young women. They deserve their day in court and we are proud to be standing up for them by bringing this indictment.

Combating sex trafficking and exploitation of children is a priority for this office and for the Department of Justice as the sexual abuse of a minor can have devastating effects on victims often lasting for years. That is why my office will not rest until perpetrators of these types of crimes are brought to justice.

Victims' voices, including the many voices of Epstein's alleged victims must be heard. To that end I want to say to anyone who was watching this or hearing about our prosecution, if you believe you are a victim of this man Jeffrey Epstein. Or you have evidence or information leading to the conduct alleged in the indictment unsealed today, we want to hear from you. Please call. 1-800-CALL FBI, that's 1-800-CALL FBI.

The charges unsealed today reflect the hard work not only of this office, but by our law enforcement partners at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. To my left is Bill Sweeney, the Assistant Director in charge of the New York Field Office of the FBI. And I wish to thank him and his team for their dedication and professionalism in seeing this investigation through.

I also want to thank the New York City Police Department represented here today by Chief Jason Wilcox and Customs and Border Patrol for their assistance in this investigation. And I want to thank and acknowledge the career prosecutors of my office handling the investigation and prosecution of this case.

To my right, Alex Rossmiller, Alison Moe, Maurene Comey, and their supervisors in the public corruption unit Russell Capone and Edward Discount. It is a privilege for me every day to work with these bright, talented and dedicated public servants. The talent is unbelievable.

We will continue to devote significant resources to investigating these crimes, that's protecting young people from sexual predators. And now I would like to invite Bill Sweeney up to the podium.

[11:10:00] WILLIAM SWEENEY, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR-IN-CHARGE, NEW YORK OFFICE OF THE FBI: Thanks Geoff. Good morning. Preserving the innocence in children is one of the most important responsibilities we carry as adults. Purposely failing children in any way is not an option.

And yet there are some in society who have chosen to blatantly disregard this responsibility, using whatever means they have at their disposal to lure children into a life which they should never have been exposed. As we allege today, Jeffrey Epstein is one of those people.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. on Saturday evening we arrested him at Teterboro Airport without incident. Epstein has been charged with one count each of sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy.

For at least a four year period, covering the entirety of 2002 through 2005, he is alleged to have sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in New York City and in Palm Beach Florida.

The girls were recruited in a variety of ways usually by employees of Epstein and sometimes by fellow victims. The victims typically received hundreds of dollars in cash. The estimated dozens of victims were as young as 14 years old at a time of recruitment.

Children who provided up steam massages while they were nude or partially nude. Children who were asked to engage in direct and indirect sex acts for money. Children who were enticed to do all these things at the hands of a man more than or nearly three times their age. Those who had been victimized by child sexual predators are frequently haunted by memories of these crimes well into their adulthood, often for the rest of their lives. They bear the burden of someone else's criminal behavior.

Too often, adults in our society have turned a blind eye to this type of criminal behavior alleged here. We have seen the excuses. The ignorance of many who didn't even bother to understand that this behavior is this persistent scourge against our society's vulnerable youth. And the willful blindness as to who the real villains are in this type of outrageous crime.

The villains are the adult perpetrators not the children. Victims of child sex trafficking come from all walks of life. They are our neighbors, our students, young adults looking for help, vulnerable foster children, the list goes on and on and on.

To the victims who may be listening or get word of today's charges, the team standing here before you represents FBI Special Agents, NYPD detectives, analyst, victim specialist, prosecutors who make it their mission to listen to every individual who's been exploited and to advocate for the most vulnerable among us.

We are parents, we are community members, we are human beings. But as an FBI Special Agent and the head of this office, I have the privilege to represent and stand among many who make it our mission to put predators behind bars where they belong, regardless of the predator's power wealth or perceived connections.

Today, I'm asking everyone to take a good look at this man. If you have been victimized in any way or if you are somebody who has any additional information about his alleged illegal behavior, we want to hear from you. Whatever age you are now, whatever age you were then, no matter where or when the incident or incidents took place.

The number to call is 1-800-CALL FBI. I'd like to take a moment to speak directly to the victims who will call that number. When you call that number you will receive a series of prompts.

You'll be asked if this is representing a major case in the country. The answer is yes. It's number four. You will then be driven to the top of the list and a Jeffrey Epstein matter is number one on the major case list in the country when you call that 1-800-CALL FBI number.

Your bravery might just empower others to speak out about crimes committed against them. It's important to remember there never was nor will there be an excuse for this kind of behavior. We know that reliving these events can be brutal. We are here to work side by side with you as you go through this process. You should know that in the eyes of the FBI you come first.

Many thanks, as always, to our partners in the Southern District. Our partnership with the NYPD on this case and so many others has been phenomenal. Thank you also to the professionals at CBP and to the Port Authority Police Department who helped us with the arrest on Saturday evening.

Last but not least, I want to extend my thanks to the NYPD child exploitation and human trafficking task force. The public should know that to be on this task force you must volunteer. The work is agonizing, but it is one of the most noble missions our agencies can engage in and we engage in it together. Thank you.

[11:15:00] BERMAN: OK. We're going to take some questions. But first let me preface it by saying that there's been a lot of speculation in the media about individuals affiliated or associated with defending Jeffrey Epstein.

As you know Justice Department guidelines prohibit us from talking about such individuals, and so I just want to let you know that if that question comes up about any individual, my answer will be, no comment. And that will be across the board no comment. And I urge you not to read anything into that one way or the other.

Are there any questions?

REPORTER: Why did you take him (inaudible)?

REPORTER: Could you give us any insight into why these charges are not covered by the immunity agreement that Epstein used with the U.S. attorney in Florida some years ago?

BERMAN: Yes. Jeffrey Epstein entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the Southern District of Florida. That agreement only binds - by its terms only binds to Southern District of Florida. The Southern District of New York is not bound by that agreement and is not a signatory to that agreement. Yes.

REPORTER: Mr. Berman--

REPORTER: Why is (inaudible)

BERMAN: Well I'm not getting into the staffing decisions at the U.S. attorney's office. I will say that I have confidence that the Public Corruption Unit is able - it can ably handle this investigation prosecution as it has so many other matters.

I will again urge you not to read into the unit assignment anything one way or another with respect to the investigation.

REPORTER: With the evidence, outcome in our review (ph) that Jeffrey Epstein can spend the next several decades of his life behind bars.

BERMAN: Look I - I'm not going to comment right now on the evidence. I will say that we are going to request detention pending the trial in this case.

REPORTER: I was just wondering reading his indictment as someone who has already has, what are the activities alleged that been already on the Department of Justice's radar way back in 2008 when Miami U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, now Secretary of Labor, brokered state plea bargain. Why is there no accounting for the very robust anticipation of DOJ at the time and--

BERMAN: Well--

REPORTER: --and new information that you have in '11 (ph).

BERMAN: I'm not going into any dealings with Main Justice nor am I going to go into any aspects of how our investigation originated. I will say that we were assisted from some excellent investigative journalism.

REPORTER: For the FBI - for the Assistant Director in Charge, I just want to ask you. The FBI tried to get him years ago first time. How important was it to get back at this try and bring more evidence and given everything that's transpired.

SWEENEY: I won't comment on getting back at anybody or anything. That's not the way we work. We work with facts. When the facts presented themselves, as Mr. Berman hinted at, through investigative journalist work, we moved on it is.

REPORTER: Mr. Sweeney you used the term - used the expression of "Willful Blindness" is that directed at the government or investigators that (inaudible).

SWEENEY: No, I'm talking about society in the whole. We've seen sex trafficking cases all over the place. It's a very busy task force. And my opinion is, often in society we ignore it, and we ignore the vulnerable victims.

REPORTER: On Saturday night you guys executed a search warrant in Mr. Epstein's evidence and the cameras that show--

BERMAN: Yes, contemporaneous with the arrest of Epstein at Teterboro Airport, agents executed a search warrant on his mansion in New York City and recovered and seized - and that was a search pursuant to a valid warrant. Agent seized evidence, including nude photographs of what appeared to be underage girls.

REPORTER: (inaudible)

BERMAN: Yes.

REPORTER: Would you like to seek Prince Andrew as a witness that can provide you any information.

BERMAN: I'm sorry what was that?

REPORTER: Would you like to seek Prince Andrew (inaudible) royal family to see if he could provide you any information. He was a longstanding friend of Mr. Epstein.

BERMAN: No comment.

REPORTER: (inaudible).

BERMAN: He flew in to the jurisdiction and so we arrested him. REPORTER: Is there any overlap between the victims stated in the non- persecution agreement or in the investigative journalism--

BERMAN: I have no comment with respect to the alleged victims. Yes.

REPORTER: (inaudible).

BERMAN: We think he's a significant flight risk and that is why we are seeking detention pending trial. He has enormous wealth. The charges are very serious and they carry with them a maximum sentence of 45 years in jail, which to someone of Epstein's age is basically a life sentence. So we think he has every incentive to try and flee the jurisdiction. And when you have two planes and you live much of the year abroad, we think that's a very real risk.

[11:20:00] REPORTER: Is Jeffrey Epstein a billionaire?

BERMAN: No comment.

REPORTER: All the victims are underage, you referred to some of them as particularly vulnerable, why is that case, you want to--

BERMAN: I can't go into the specifics with respect to any particular victim.

REPORTER: (inaudible)

BERMAN: No comment.

REPORTER: This is obviously a massive investigation. How do you compare this to other sex trafficking cases you've prosecuted in the past?

BERMAN: Well, it's extremely significant, because of the number of years and the number of victims. There are dozens of victims as alleged in the indictment in New York and dozens in Florida. And it maintained itself over several years. So this is very significant.

Our office has handled this year, in fact, many significant sex trafficking cases and this is one of them.

REPORTER: Where do you find these women and how does he luring them with (inaudible)

BERMAN: Well, as alleged in the indictment, these individuals - the underage girls were sometimes recruited by current victims. And the current victims were given cash payments if they could bring other underage girls to be similarly abused. And that's how he continued to expand the number of new victims that he had. And that's how it was able to maintain itself over several years.

REPORTER: (inaudible)

BERMAN: The indictment indicates that there were phone calls and contacts made not only with Mr. Epstein, but his employees - between his employees and the alleged victims. REPORTER: Do you have access to records in the defamation case against his associates that (inaudible)

BERMAN: No comment.

REPORTER: Yes, I guess, it's (inaudible), but why is the case coming back now since these victims charges all happening between 2002 and 2005?

BERMAN: Well, it's still a very important case and it means a great deal to the alleged victims here that they have their day in court and we want to ensure that they had their - they have their day in court by bringing these charges.

REPORTER: --mentioned that there was reporting within the Miami Herald articles that might have helped bring fore new victims that you weren't previously aware of?

BERMAN: We are certainly aware of that reporting.

REPORTER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: All right. You were listening right there to the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman as well as the Head of the FBI.

Here, a lot to go over as the indictment and charges against Jeffrey Epstein have now been detailed and they lay it out. Here with me, Elie Honig, Caroline Polisi, Brian Stelter here as well.

I just want to get your take. What is the most important thing that you heard Caroline? Because when I was listening for the third time being asked, what is new here? Why bring this now? Geoffrey Berman said this case is very - still very important.

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. To me this entire press conference was a very powerful rebuke of Alex Acosta and the whole debacle in 2008 when he was the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

He let Jeffrey Epstein off with a slap on the wrist for huge federal charges - the charges that are detailed in this indictment, essentially what he was facing there and then. What Acosta agreed to was a non-prosecution agreement then for federal charges.

Epstein pleaded guilty to really low level state charges for prostitution. He served 13 months in a county jail--

BOLDUAN: So some of the things that drives me nuts about this is he's also was able to leave five days, six a week--

(CROSSTALK) ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: --go to office.

BOLDUAN: --for 12 hours to go to his office.

POLISI: Exactly. In this case, what I see in this press conference, justice delayed is not justice denied. I think that's what the Southern District is trying to say here. Too often people like this have gotten away with crimes like this. And I think what you're seeing here is the Southern District saying "Not on our watch".

BOLDUAN: But Elie this would be a - this is a slap at any - it seems - it sounds like until we learn more this is the case that was - agreed to yes, we're in a new district, being looked at again. If this had been any federal prosecutor had who had inked that deal, they would be under scrutiny.

The federal prosecutor who led that deal then is Alex Acosta. He is currently a cabinet secretary in this administration. How does he not face real questions?

HONIG: I don't know how he can survive this. I've seen--

BOLDUAN: Seriously?

HONIG: Yes. I've seen thousands of plea deals given out and I've seen good plea deals and medium plea deals and really bad plea deals. This is on a whole another level. This is completely inexplicable.

The amount of time the state charges, the fact that he was free to go work in an office. The fact that they did not notify victims--

[11:25:00] BOLDUAN: Elie even go beyond that. That when Julie Brown had done that amazing reporting for The Miami Herald this was discussed. And now you have the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York saying these victims deserve their day in court.

HONIG: One hundred percent. The fact that they didn't notify victims, I remember being trained on that day one. Right within the first couple weeks of arriving at the U.S. attorney's office, you learn, if you have a case involving victims, you must give them a heads up.

They may not always agree, but the fact that they were not given a heads up that has to be intentional. There's no way Alex Acosta did not know that he had to notify the victims.

BOLDUAN: Real quick Brian before - because there's so much fallout. This reaches far beyond - this likely reaches, obviously far beyond Epstein. But there's not a lot of detail in this indictment. It's not - there's not a lot more that hasn't been seen in the Miami Herald reporting, I have to say. Caroline. What do they need to show? Do they need to show anything more?

POLISI: Well, Elie and I were talking about this before the break. Yes, typically Southern District indictments are a little bit more fulsome than this. We did get a really interesting piece of information just now from that press conference was that they simultaneously executed a search warrant on his Manhattan residence when they arrested him on Saturday at Teterboro Airport.

They discovered evidence, what they just said, photographs of underage girls - naked underage girls. Meaning, they likely may have discovered evidence of new crimes so they at least have something in their back pocket to use as leverage when they are - I don't know if they're going to even offer him a deal.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

POLISI: But if they would get to that step, they would they would have something.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: It does seem a lot of this is the result of the Miami Herald bringing this story to the forefront last November.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

STELTER: And this came up repeatedly at the press conference saying they were assisted by excellent investigative journalism. It seems that the Herald's investigation, reaching out to victims, interviewing victims on the record for the first time and getting them to print, made a big difference here.

BOLDUAN: And just--

STELTER: Because it shocked to the conscience.

BOLDUAN: And you've interviewed her. You've interviewed the journalist. Her dogged pursuit of the truth, not letting it go, it cannot be ignored here.

STELTER: In fact she was about to go fly to interview another accuser today. Instead, she headed to New York for the press conference. But she was continuing on this story for many months, even as it started to fade off the radar.

When this story came out in November there were calls for Acosta to resign.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, that's right.

STELTER: Trump was asked about it. You know the answer from the White House has basically been a, "Kick the can down the road" and say they're paying attention to this, but not do anything. Well she continued to stay on the story. And clearly, these prosecutors stayed on this case as well.

HONIG: And let me just confirm for you Brian and Kate and for any investigative journalists that are out there, prosecutors do read the newspaper every day.

STELTER: They're paying attention.

HONIG: Yes. We - look, investigative journalists do really important work. You take a lead wherever you can get it as a prosecutor. Obviously, you do your own diligence. You make sure it's all checked out. But investigative journalism does really move the needle with prosecutors.

BOLDUAN: And Brian the fallout here is potentially great beyond - I mean Alexander Acosta is one really big question. Right? But I mean Epstein ran in big circles from - he was close to Trump, he was close to the Clintons, to royals as well. His legal team at the time that helped him ink this deal included some of the boldest names in the legal community that you know. If I see the names Alan Dershowitz or Ken Starr, the layman knows these people's names.

STELTER: Yes. And there has got to be some examination, some self- reflection and some outside examination about the powerful circles that Epstein was traveling in for many years. And again, as you mentioned, this is - in a way it's nonpartisan, because there are political figures on the Left and on the Right and all around that we're friendly with Epstein.

He was at Mar-a-Lago years ago. He was on a private jet with Clinton years ago. That doesn't necessarily mean anything criminal. But it's worth reflecting on how money and power and influence can shield someone, it seems for a very long time, and that's what this story is about.

And I love that Sweeney at the press conference said, "No matter how well-connected you are, the law is going to catch up".

BOLDUAN: And there is a few other things that we all kind of collectively picked up on around the table. A few of the things that the FBI mentioned at the press conference was blatantly ignoring, ignorance, willful blindness--

STELTER: Willful blindness.

BOLDUAN: Talk to me about using that terminology in a press conference. I don't want to read too far into it, but to me that is a criticism of what hasn't been done in the past or how something had been handled, though, he was asked and said he was speaking about society?

POLISI: Exactly. Of course, they're not going to go on the record saying that this is exactly about Alex Acosta. But I agree. I mean, the silence on that part was deafening.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

POLISI: I think you could you could really tell that they - the Southern District wants to send the message, not only to the victims, but to society at large, that this kind of behavior is no longer going to be turned a blind eye to, as it was in the past.