The new MIT report on Jeffrey Epstein raises questions about how much to blame billionaires like Bill Gates

For months, tech billionaires have been on the ropes over the ties they maintained with money manager Jeffrey Epstein well after he was indicted and registered as a sex offender in 2008. Many of those connections centered around MIT’s Media Lab, an institution popular in Silicon Valley and that had a concealed fundraising relationship with Epstein.

But many of those billionaires — from Bill Gates to Reid Hoffman — weren’t exactly revealing about their ties to Epstein when he was arrested this summer, or were at least quick to defend the Media Lab’s leadership over the Epstein situation.

And so many hoped that a months-in-the-making external report from lawyers hired by MIT would finally put those questions to rest. But when the report was released Friday, investigators skirted direct answers and statements of fact, and ultimately failed to settle some of the basic questions about Silicon Valley’s responsibility for nurturing Epstein.

A Gates representative didn’t return a request for comment. A Hoffman representative referred to an apology Hoffman issued earlier this year about his interactions with Epstein.

Let’s start with Gates. The until-recently richest man in the world has consistently downplayed his ties to Epstein, telling one reporter, “I didn’t have any business relationship or friendship with him.” But Gates is among the tech billionaires with the most extensive, disclosed ties to Epstein.

Whether Epstein and Gates did have a “business relationship” has been disputed. Gates did make a $2 million donation to the Media Lab in 2014. And Ronan Farrow reported in The New Yorker that Epstein was credited with securing the Gates money, with internal records saying that Epstein had “directed” the gift or made it at his instruction.

“Gates is making this gift at the recommendation of a friend of his who wishes to remain anonymous,” the record read.

Gates’ aides denied Epstein’s direction of the gift. But if he did, as Farrow reported he did, it raises the possibility that Gates was somehow complicit in the image rehabilitation of Epstein and part of an unseemly cover-up.

But MIT investigators did little to help establish truth and fiction in the situation.

“In 2014, Epstein claimed to have arranged for Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates to provide an anonymous $2 million donation to the Media Lab,” MIT’s lawyers wrote in the 63-page report. “Representatives of Bill Gates have told us that Gates flatly denies that Epstein had anything to do with Gates’s donation.”

This, suffice it to say, skirts the question of who is telling the truth — and effectively leaves it as an unresolved he-said-she-said.

When Recode asked the lawyers involved in the report if this sidestep was intentional, they would only say that “we didn’t see any evidence” that Gates or any Gates entity “were donating money from Mr. Epstein or that they were donating money at the behest of Mr. Epstein.” They used similar language — “there is no evidence” — to respond to the notion that Gates acted to “launder” Epstein’s money by donating money that didn’t belong to the Microsoft founder.

In the report, MIT’s investigators do not definitively say it did not happen — just that they didn’t see any evidence of it. And that statement would then have to be reconciled with MIT’s internal records, which offer at least some evidence to the contrary.

While there are many reasons to doubt the credibility of Epstein and of Joi Ito, the ousted head of the MIT Media Lab, there are also reasons why Gates and his denial should be scrutinized.

Despite Gates’ public comments minimizing his ties to Epstein, the New York Times uncovered numerous instances of Epstein and Gates meeting privately, to say nothing of Gates’ underlings. At one point, Gates told colleagues that the lifestyle of Epstein, who at that point was already a convicted sex offender, was “intriguing.” (A spokesperson told the Times that the comment had nothing to do with Epstein’s lurid past.)

“Bill Gates regrets ever meeting with Epstein and recognizes it was an error in judgment to do so,” a Gates spokesperson told the paper this fall.

That brings us to another Silicon Valley luminary who has apologized over Epstein — Reid Hoffman. The LinkedIn founder and political powerbroker has his own ties to Epstein through the Media Lab, where he sits on the advisory board. Hoffman helped raise money for the Media Lab, which involved fundraising solicitation meetings with the sex offender.

“By agreeing to participate in any fundraising activity where Epstein was present, I helped to repair his reputation and perpetuate injustice. For this, I am deeply regretful,” Hoffman said this September.

Hoffman has said that he vouched for Epstein because It told him that Epstein has cleared MIT’s vetting process. He even went so far as to bring Epstein out to Palo Alto for a dinner with people like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Peter Thiel in 2015. (Reminder: Epstein had been convicted on child prostitution charges for seven years by this point.)

That was the last time that Hoffman saw Epstein. But as recently as this August, Hoffman was standing up strongly for Ito and his handling of the Epstein situation. It took Hoffman until Farrow’s story in September to apologize.

And this new report from MIT makes clear that Hoffman and Epstein had other interactions over the years. In July 2013, Epstein visited the MIT campus to meet with Hoffman and others. And Hoffman continued to be consulted on Epstein matters.

“In July 2016, Ito sought advice from Reid Hoffman about whether to allow Epstein to attend a conference (perhaps the announcement of the Media Lab Directors’ Fellows) with “lots of people” who may “see him and maybe know he’s involved,” the authors write.

What they don’t write is what Hoffman actually advised Ito. That’s one of many things that we still need to know to fully account for Silicon Valley’s complicity in the Epstein saga.

Theodore Schleifer Theodore Schleifer https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/community_logos/52517/voxv.png Read More