NYT columnist: Epstein claimed to have damaging information on powerful people

New York Times columnist James B. Stewart writes in a new piece that wealthy financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein claimed in an interview last year to have dirt on powerful figures.

"Epstein knew an astonishing number of rich, famous and powerful people, and had photos to prove it. He also claimed to know a great deal about these people, some of it potentially damaging or embarrassing, including details about their supposed sexual proclivities and recreational drug use," Stewart says in the column, which is based on an on-background conversation he had with Epstein in 2018 while interviewing him about his involvement with Tesla.

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The column comes after Epstein, who was indicted last month on sex trafficking charges, died by an apparent suicide in his Manhattan jail cell over the weekend. 

Epstein had been on suicide watch after an apparent previous attempt, but on Monday it was reported his defense attorneys pushed for him to be taken off of it ahead of his death early Saturday.

Stewart wrote in his column that the news made him think those Epstein had dirt on "must be breathing sighs of relief that whatever Mr. Epstein knew, he has taken it with him."

A woman who accused Epstein of raping her when she was 15 said Saturday that officials must continue pursuing his associates in an alleged sex-trafficking ring.

Epstein was awaiting trial on allegations that he trafficked dozens of minors for sex. He previously accepted a plea deal in 2008 over similar accusations of soliciting sex from underage girls that landed him on the sex offender registry.

Stewart also wrote of his August 2018 interview that Epstein openly discussed the allegations against him and suggested underage sex shouldn't be criminalized. 

"He said that criminalizing sex with teenage girls was a cultural aberration and that at times in history it was perfectly acceptable. He pointed out that homosexuality had long been considered a crime and was still punishable by death in some parts of the world."