The Spectre of Virginia Roberts Giuffre Hangs Over the Maxwell Trial
Dispatches from the Maxwell Trial
The biggest shock for me in yesterday’s opening statements at the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, who stands accused of helping Jeffrey Epstein traffic and sexually abuse underage girls (charges which she denies), was the mention of Virginia Roberts Giuffre, the woman who has accused Epstein and Maxwell of using her as an under-age “sex slave” who was trafficked out to famous men, including Prince Andrew (who has denied this).
Maxwell’s defense attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, told the jury that the government’s fourth accuser (of four), a woman who will go by the pseudonym “Carolyn,” was not in fact recruited by Maxwell but by Giuffre.
The reason that is so startling and so significant is that, were it not for Giuffre and her lawyers (whom Sternheim insuated were among lawyers driven by self-interest), you could well make the argument (and it’s possible the defense will) that Maxwell would not be in her current predicament. And yet Giuffre is strangely, rather enormously, absent from this trial. Journalists kept commenting on it in the courthouse.
Also absent is Giuffre’s well-known lawyer, David Boies. “Do not expect to see him around the court,”someone close to Boies told me.
And yet Giuffre and Boies are really at the heart of the Maxwell trial.
To explain: In 2011, though Jeffrey Epstein was by that point a convicted sex-offender (he served 13 months after pleading guilty in Florida state court to charges of procuring a child for prostitution and soliciting a prostitute), neither he nor Maxwell were bold-faced names. But then Giuffre sold that photograph of Prince Andrew. Reportedly taken in March 2001 at Ghislaine Maxwell’s London home, it showed Andrew, in a white button-down shirt, top button undone, with his arm around the waist of a then-17-year-old Giuffre. Smiling proudly off to the side, like some sort of triumphant mama hen, is Ghislaine Maxwell. Epstein himself is alleged to have been the photographer.
A photograph appearing to show Prince Andrew with Jeffrey Epstein's accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre and, in the background, Ghislaine Maxwell. || Florida Southern District Court
Now that got people’s attention.
Following the publication of that photograph, Giuffre filed allegations against Epstein, naming Prince Andrew and other famous men, including lawyer Alan Dershowitz and politician Bill Richardson, as men to whom Epstein had trafficked her as a sex slave. All the men have denied the charges.
Maxwell publicly called Giuffre a liar, so Giuffre then also sued Maxwell for defamation. In 2017, the suit was settled, but Boies didn’t let the matter drop. He repeatedly asked for the attention of the media and the FBI regarding the contents of Maxwell’s depositions, which were then still under seal. Boies told me he’s proud of the fact that he banged the drum about Maxwell. “[Maxwell] knew that we were going in 2016 and 2017—we were going to prosecutors, we were going to the media, we were going to anybody who would listen,” he said.
In 2018, Julie K. Brown at the Miami Herald published her excellent series on Epstein’s abuse and the travesty of justice back in 2008 when he had escaped federal charges, instead getting a gentle sentence based on state charges. Brown’s descriptions of the horrific abuse caught the attention of Congress, who re-awoke the FBI, who revitalized their old investigation and arrested Jeffrey Epstein – who then allegedly killed himself in jail on August 10, 2019 while awaiting trial.
On July 2, 2020, nearly a year after Epstein’s death, Maxwell was arrested. Maxwell lawyer Sternheim vociferously argues that her client has been made a scapegoat for Epstein simply because he’s not around.
In addition to the charges of aiding Epstein’s sexual abuse and trafficking of minors, Maxwell is charged with two counts of perjury which, the government alleges, she made in her depositions for the civil litigation with Giuffre—depositions she gave to Boies.
So, where then is Virginia Roberts Giuffre, the woman whose bravery, one could argue, started it all?
Her absence on the trial’s opening day stands in stark contrast with her media press conferences held outside the courthouse after Epstein was arrested.
Last week, David Weinstein, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Miami, warned me that, were she to be called as a witness, Giuffre could be weaponized by Maxwell’s defense team,.
“I don't mean any disrespect to her, but she presents herself as more of a sideshow and a distraction and an opportunity to become a red herring for the defense team than she does as an asset for the prosecution team,” Weinstein said. “In most federal prosecutions, witnesses have not provided deposition testimony, they have not been cross-examined already, they have not had to go through the process, and they have not therefore been able to provide the defense with a great deal of information that they can use during cross-examination and to attack the veracity and credibility of a particular witness.”
The irony is that the Maxwell defense has now weaponized Giuffre, even in her absence. By doing so, they have given the government a further burden in their effort to prove their case against Maxwell, says Weinstein.
“[Giuffre] can’t defend herself, because she hasn’t been called, so now someone else [for the government] is going to have to do that for her,” he says.
And it’s possible, too, that Giuffre now has an extra burden in her own suit against Prince Andrew. Given that the Prince’s latest motion in the New York Southern District Court shows he is now on the offensive (he accused Giuffre of procuring “slutty girls” for Epstein), anything said about her at the Maxwell trial is likely fuel to a fire.
When I asked the Prince’s attorney, Andrew Brettler about his planned strategy for the hearing, he refused to comment but nonetheless added cryptically, “You make a good point”.
I guess that means, “Standby.”
All three parts of my docu-series “Chasing Ghislaine” will air back-to-back on ID starting at 8/7c on Friday, December 3.