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Ghislaine Maxwell’s Bill Clinton Defense

Predators always want to play dumb. Ghislaine Maxwell’s unsealed deposition is a crash course in twisting questions until the answers are meaningless

The long uphill fight for justice and transparency in the Jeffrey Epstein saga inched forward this week with the release of a 2016 deposition from Ghislaine Maxwell, the late pedophile’s alleged co-conspirator in the sex trafficking of minors. According to the Miami Herald, which had sued for the release of these documents, the transcript “shows how deeply intertwined” Maxwell was in Epstein’s nefarious activities. Although heavily redacted, powerful men including Bill Clinton, Alan Dershowitz and Prince Andrew are implicated in the text.

These lurid particulars were to be expected — after all, Maxwell’s lawyers had done everything to keep the pages sealed — but it’s remarkable to read her evasions, and to feel how coached or practiced this sort of language is. Julie K. Brown, the Herald reporter who has spent years unraveling the Epstein story, called it a “textbook lesson” on resisting any direct answers.

The obvious conclusion here is that Maxwell was covering up any number of depraved and illicit acts that she and Epstein carried out, either separately or in concert. But she’s also dodging almost every direct statement of fact — to avoid being contradicted by evidence or testimony later on. It seems to be the uniting quality of accused serial predators: that under scrutiny they delve into semantics, definitions, phrasing and the philosophy of mind so they don’t have to lie outright. How fitting, then, for Clinton’s name to appear — the president who mused on the meaning of the word “is” in order to undercut the reality of his improper behavior with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and relied on the ambiguous phrase “sexual relations” in his most infamous denial of it, is once more protected by a style of stubborn, cunning ignorance.

Playing dumb, in other words. And Maxwell, with help from her counsel, builds that wall of confusion like a master carpenter, able to deflect for hours and hours by picking apart the interrogation itself. In so doing, she, like Clinton and others, confirms she isn’t stupid in the slightest. People like this know that a simple “yes” or “no” can trap them in a narrative. Better to act as if you want to be forthcoming, but the procedural difficulties of syntax are forcing you off track. It is a deeply cynical strategy, to masquerade until there is no such thing as a fact.

Luckily, Maxwell — now awaiting trial on six federal charges — may no longer have the escape hatch of empty rhetoric. What’s more, she’s added to our blueprint of how abusers speak around their crimes. When all is said and done, no one should be permitted this kind of defense again.