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More court documents are to be released about convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The names of dozens of powerful men allegedly connected to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was revealed this week. Now, to be clear, just because they're named in the unsealed court documents, it doesn't mean they're accused of wrongdoing. Additional documents were unsealed Thursday evening, and more are set to be made public in the coming days. For more insight on this release, I'm joined now by Jarrod Schaeffer. He's a partner at Abell Eskew Landau and a former federal prosecutor with the Southern District of New York. Good morning.

JARROD SCHAEFFER: Thank you, Leila. It's a pleasure to join you this morning.

FADEL: Thanks for being here. So I want to start with what we learned, really, that's new from the documents unsealed so far.

SCHAEFFER: So I think the answer to that is not much.

FADEL: OK.

SCHAEFFER: There are some names of prominent individuals that have surfaced in these documents and, as you pointed out, sometimes in innocuous ways, along with others such as members of Epstein's staff or law enforcement. But on the whole, much of what's been released so far actually reflects information that's already known to the public. It's not surprising, since that was the basis on which the district court decided to unseal the material in the first place.

FADEL: Now, these documents include testimony, eyewitness accounts with claims about Epstein's world where women were allegedly exploited, sexually assaulted, raped. Do you expect, with what's being made public, that it could lead to more lawsuits or more convictions connected to these alleged crimes?

SCHAEFFER: It's a hard question to answer because some of these documents actually predate the Maxwell criminal trial, where a lot more information became public. I think there's definitely the possibility of more litigation, potentially, about additional disclosures of documents. Some documents are going to remain under seal, and the Miami Herald has already requested the unsealing of additional material to help contextualize the documents that have been released. To the extent that you're asking about additional civil suits or investigations or criminal proceedings, I think we'll just have to wait and see what's actually revealed.

FADEL: And there you're referring to Ghislaine Maxwell, who was convicted and is sentenced in 2021. Now, there are a lot of high-profile people named here, including some accused of wrongdoing, but they also include many people who are not. What are the implications of releasing all these names publicly?

SCHAEFFER: I think there are some serious implications for the people who either are just swept along in this entire endeavor or people who are actually victims. The district court apparently has some similar concerns with respect to at least some individuals. It decided to keep sealed material related to a handful of people who are either alleged to be minor victims or appeared uninvolved in the relevant events. But I think there's a real possibility - and it echoes concerns that prosecutors usually have about releasing material regarding witnesses or victims - that these people could have their names publicized in the press and could face some harm, or at least some reputational damage.

FADEL: Now, there's been so many questions around this case, specifically Epstein, known now as a notorious sex trafficker, convicted for that, and around the powerful people he allegedly associated with, so many have pushed for transparency. So having more information out there, in your view, does it lead to justice?

SCHAEFFER: You know, Leila, that's a really hard question...

FADEL: Yeah.

SCHAEFFER: ...Because it really boils down to justice for whom? If we're talking about the public, which has a genuine interest in learning the truth about these matters, then maybe the unsealing of this material does serve some just purpose. But if we're talking about the victims at the - of the crimes at the center of this case, I think it's a tougher question because this material brings more scrutiny to painful times in their lives. And in light of Epstein's death and Maxwell's conviction by the Southern District of New York, it's hard to see how the release of this material can give those victims justice.

FADEL: What about misinformation? I mean, already we saw New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers claim late-night host Jimmy Kimmel was on the list when he is not. There are a lot of conspiracy theories already swirling. With all this information out there, how much of an issue is misinformation?

SCHAEFFER: I think it's a big issue. The Court of Appeals definitely flagged that concern when it ordered that these documents be reviewed for release. I think it's really important that the public takes these documents and reviews them with a critical eye, and it will also be important for news media like NPR to make sure that when it covers these documents, it does so carefully and accurately.

FADEL: Former federal prosecutor Jarrod Schaeffer is a partner at Abell Eskew Landau. Thank you so much for your time.

SCHAEFFER: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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