Episode 22: ‘The Hot List’
Producer/Director John Pappas
When a big bear of a man in flip-flops showed up with a bottle of Japanese whiskey promising to deliver evidence implicating some of the world’s richest and most powerful men in an epic cover-up of sexual misconduct, our reporters were hooked.
The man went by a pseudonym, Patrick Kessler, and he said he had terabytes of video surveillance from Jeffrey Epstein’s residences and other materials that, if true, would validate theories Epstein was engaged in an extensive blackmail operation. Kessler said he would share it all with The New York Times.
As his outrageous story began to unravel, he illuminated something else: how two of America’s top lawyers considered using the promised trove of Epstein information.
This special hourlong episode of “The Weekly” tells the wild story of four Times reporters chasing one of the biggest stories of the year – if only it were true. In the course of their reporting, they get a rare glimpse into the secretive world of legal settlements in which wealthy people are allowed to make damning evidence disappear.
More than a dozen New York Times reporters have been investigating the Jeffrey Epstein case, including several members of the Business desk, led by Ellen Pollock. For this special episode of “The Weekly,” the finance editor David Enrich and business reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Emily Steel teamed up with Jacob Bernstein of the Styles desk to chase down a too-good-to-be-true lead in the Epstein case.
Who Is Patrick Kessler?
Among the many unusual things about this episode — and our reporting on this story — is the fact that we regrettably still have no idea who Patrick Kessler is. He seemed to appear out of the ether, and he continues to reside there.
From the first time we met him, he insisted that he would not disclose his identity. He agreed to sit for an on-camera interview — but only if we obscured his face. We generally don’t grant anonymity to such characters, but in this case we thought it was justified because it would allow us to share his voice and physical outline with viewers. Maybe you’ll hear him and know who he is.
We pushed him, sometimes gently and sometimes aggressively, to tell us. He always refused. He claimed to live within a three-hour radius of Washington, D.C., but we don’t know if that’s three hours by plane, train or car. Even if it’s by foot it doesn’t help much.
Many details he shared about his background didn’t hold up after fact-checking. Even his explanation for his motives seemed dishonest. In the end, we can only guess why someone would make up an elaborate claim about surveillance videos and spend many hours over the course of several months engaging lawyers and journalists.
We’re eager to hear your theories after you watch the episode.
THE FULL EPISODE WILL BE AVAILABLE TO TIMES SUBSCRIBERS IN THE U.S. ON
MONDAY, Jan. 6
Accusations of sexual predation had followed Epstein for years, though it wasn’t until his arrest in July that the scope of his abuse became clear.
David Boies, long considered one of the top litigators in the country, represents five of Epstein’s accusers who are suing his estate for unspecified damages. They’re also trying to extend the window when victims of sex crimes can bring civil claims to court.
Boies suffered “an unprecedented public relations disaster” after his longtime client Harvey Weinstein was branded a sexual predator and another of his clients, the blood-testing firm Theranos, on whose board Boies served, was exposed as a fraud.
Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen, and Liz Day
Producer Lizzie Blenk
Directors of Photography Adam Beckman and Jaron Berman
Video Editors Geoff O’Brien, Sean Frechette, and Marlon Singleton
Associate Producers Madeline Rosenberg, Lora Moftah, and Wesley Harris