Like Jay Gatsby, who ends up floating dead in his opulent swimming pool after being gunned down by a jealous husband, Jeffrey Epstein is a figure of American carnage. Where Gatsby presented himself as a genuine Oxford man of colossal wealth, Epstein hyped his ties to Harvard and disported himself with his fellow high rollers. Now all that is gone.
If you believe the news reports — and not everyone does — he hanged himself and was not under a suicide watch. Already a variety of conspiracy theories are clustering around the mysterious financier who ran a sex trafficking ring out of his Manhattan and Palm Beach mansions. To some, his death seems all too convenient. When it comes to the high and mighty, from American tycoons to Harvard professors, from British grandees to Middle East potentates, the question isn’t whom the lubricious Epstein knew but whom he didn’t. He was the spider at the center of a vast web of contacts, most of whom are busily trying to brush off their former ties to him as fleeting and tenuous.
Attorney general William P. Barr says that he’s ‘appalled’ by the death and the Justice Department and FBI are supposed to investigate it. But suspicions about a government cover-up are percolating. Why wasn’t Epstein on suicide watch? Was the hope that he would seek to kill himself in order to help shield President Trump from any nasty revelations about his dealings with his old pal? Former federal prosecutor Preet Bharara tweeted today: ‘There should be — and almost certainly is — video of Epstein’s suicide at MCC. One hopes it is complete, conclusive, and secured.’
At the very same time, a top Trump Housing and Urban Development official is alleging that Epstein, who was buddies not only with Donald Trump but also Bill Clinton, was ‘Hillary’d!’ The thinking here would be that much as former Clinton White House official Vince Foster was supposedly taken out by Hillary Clinton, so Epstein fell prey to her machinations on behalf of her pulchritudinous husband. Indeed, the official, Lynne Patton, referred to it on Instagram as #VinceFosterPartTwo.
But there are a number of competing theories as well. Another is that the Russians are behind Epstein’s death, at least if you put much stock in MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. He tweeted: ‘A guy who had information that would have destroyed rich and powerful men’s lives ends up dead in his jail cell. How predictably…Russian.’ With tens of thousands of Russians protesting his rule in Moscow this weekend, however, Vladimir Putin presumably has other things on his mind than snuffing out Epstein.
Or did a Jack Ruby-type character ensure Epstein’s demise? The fact that Barr feels compelled to investigate the death indicates that either the prison guards were woefully inadequate or the government suspects that foul play may have taken place. The one thing that seems certain is that Epstein’s death will not end conspiracy theories about his activities but provide them with additional life.
For all the Gatsbyan mystery that attended Epstein, however, he is a far more sordid figure. Nick Carraway’s final words to Gatsby hold out a prospect of redemption, ‘They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’ It’s not something anyone would ever have said to Epstein or, for that matter, his old chum Trump. The case of Epstein, as Michelle Goldberg has observed ‘reveals a deep corruption among mostly male elites across parties, and the way the very rich can often purchase impunity for even the most loathsome of crimes.’ In his mendacity and hollowness, his debasement and perfidiousness, Epstein will come to be seen as a true representative man of the Trump era.