STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Why did it take so long for prosecutors to make this week's indictment of Jeffrey Epstein. The financier is accused of sexual abuse of dozens of minors. The indictment covers alleged activity going back at least 17 years. Only some of that alleged conduct was covered by a plea bargain more than a decade ago, yet it was not until a recent investigation by the Miami Herald that the public at large began to learn the scale of the accusations and that federal charges followed.
Vicky Ward asserts we could have known some of this 15 years ago and says she did know some of it. She wrote about Epstein for Vanity Fair, but her story, she says, was heavily edited. And she's on the line now from New York. Welcome to the program.
VICKY WARD: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Did you set out to write an expose of Jeffrey Epstein?
WARD: I did. At the time, it was two-pronged. You know, the mystery about Jeffrey Epstein, with both how he had made his money - this is a very wealthy guy who lived in New York's private residence. The townhouse is so big it actually once was a former school. It was known that he had very rich and powerful friends. He had flown Bill Clinton and Kevin Spacey to Africa on his private plane. But it was also known that he had, you know, an eclectic social life. It was known that he would gather New York's rich and famous for dinner parties at his home. But there would be these very young women. The women were always part of the Jeffrey Epstein story.
So what I discovered back in 2002 was that, you know, that he was not professionally what he claimed to be; he wasn't a straightforward money manager and managing money in a typical way for billionaires. In fact, he'd had some dealings with some very shady people, including - one of his mentors was a man I met with in jail, a guy called Steve Hoffenberg, who had gone to prison for 20 years.
INSKEEP: And you also found out something about those much-younger women, I guess.
WARD: Well, I did. And two women were - bravely came forward and talked to me on the record and explained how each of them had separately, they alleged, been molested. One of them claimed she'd been molested when she was 16. Their mother spoke to me and explained that she had been sort of duped into allowing her younger daughter to go spend the weekend with Epstein because Epstein had put his girlfriend, the prominent British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell - from a very famous British family - sort of on the phone and assuring her that everything would be all right.
And the reason that this young woman wanted to know Epstein with that he had promised to send her on a trip abroad, which was something she needed on her resume in order to go to an Ivy League school. These young women were terrified, however, that Epstein, with his power - with his money and his powerful connections, would make them look ridiculous, that he would rip into their credibility. And sure enough, he did.
Because - you know, the piece was ready to go. And I had lots of people, including the artist Eric Fischl, who would vouchsafe for these two young women, vouchsafe for their characters and corroborate, you know, their stories. When Jeffrey Epstein appeared in the magazine's offices, went to see the editor, and the next thing I knew was that these two women and their accounts and their mother's accounts had been cut out of the piece. And...
INSKEEP: Now, I want to understand this, if I can. Graydon Carter is the editor; he's a very famous editor. They certainly have published exposes of people in the past, and they seem to have allowed the part of your expose raising questions about how Jeffrey Epstein made his money.
WARD: Yes. Yes.
INSKEEP: What explanation did Carter give for cutting the part about abusing minors?
WARD: He told me that he believed Jeffrey Epstein, and he told me that Jeffrey Epstein was clearly very sensitive about the women. And he also told me that there'd been a sort of barter negotiation whereby he needed - you know, Vanity Fair's a very visual magazine; it needed photographs - that he'd managed to get Jeffrey Epstein to get him some photographs to use, to with the piece.
INSKEEP: He traded - you're alleging he traded away the most devastating part of the story...
INSKEEP: ...In order to get a prettier story?
WARD: Right. But, Steve, you know something - you talked earlier about how Jeffrey Epstein has been in plain sight and what he's done has been in plain sight all this time, and I think that this is a classic example of that. This was in plain sight; the women and their stories were in plain sight.
INSKEEP: I want to mention, Graydon Carter has responded through other journalists. He says, we didn't have confidence in Vicky Ward's reporting. She simply didn't have the goods. I want to just try to underline this if I can - the two women you identify essentially as victims here, did they give their names?
INSKEEP: Were they on the record? Was there corroborating evidence?
WARD: They gave their names; their mother gave her name. They were on the record, in detail. I phoned around. There were people, including the artist Eric Fischl, who all knew. They had been told by these two women at the time what had happened to them.
INSKEEP: Do you think this is a matter of power or really a matter of culture - people just were not quite prepared to look under that rock, no matter how obvious it was?
WARD: Well, I think clearly they weren't prepared to look under that rock, which is precisely why, you know, back then in 2007 and 2008, Jeffrey Epstein got away again - right? - when his lawyer - you know, he had this massive, powerful legal team, and this extraordinary ludicrous plea agreement, which was raised - you know, was struck, rather.
WARD: Which stopped the FBI investigation in its tracks. And one of the reasons for that was because Epstein's lawyers said, you know, they were going to make mincemeat of the women's testimonies.
INSKEEP: So it becomes a matter of - yeah.
WARD: They were going to treat them like my girls.
INSKEEP: Yeah, becomes, like - becomes a matter of culture and power.
INSKEEP: Vicky Ward, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
WARD: Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: Reporter Vicky Ward is also the author of a book about Jared Kushner called "Kushner, Inc." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.