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Former President Bill Clinton

Photo by Matt Johnson/ CC BY-NC 2.0

Only hours before Bill Clinton addressed the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 18, a strange thing happened. The tabloids published newly discovered photos of the former president receiving a neck massage from a young woman. The pictures were allegedly taken in 2002 during a Clinton Foundation trip to Africa on the jet owned by Jeffrey Epstein, who was revealed years later to be a rapist, thug and serial exploiter of young women. The woman in those photos is Chauntae Davies, then 22 years old and a massage therapist employed by Epstein. She accused him many years later of having raped and mistreated her.


But the story didn't support the sensational headlines — "Photos Show Clinton Getting Massage From Epstein Accuser" — because Davies has told every journalist or lawyer who has asked that Clinton's behavior on that trip was always perfectly appropriate, including when she tried to soothe his aching neck. (She wasn't an "Epstein accuser" when she met Clinton, because there weren't any Epstein accusers until at least three years later.)

"President Clinton was a perfect gentleman during the trip and I saw absolutely no foul play involving him," Davies told the Daily Mail, a description that matches her previous remarks about his "charming and sweet" behavior.

Why did those photos pop up when Clinton was preparing to address the nation about President Donald Trump? And why do Trump's minions in the tabloids and right-wing outlets, and his useful idiots in the mainstream media, drone on about Clinton and Epstein?

It's the perennial Trump tactic of distraction from his own dubious relationship with Epstein — including videos, photos, troubling anecdotes and his own remarks. In 2002, New York magazine quoted him praising "Jeff" as a "terrific guy ... a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side."

The Trump framing of Clinton began in 2016, when Republican operative Roger Stone sought to divert attention from Trump's own history of sexual misconduct, much of it allegedly violent. A self-proclaimed dirty trickster with his own baroque sexual inclinations, Stone brought back Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick to assist the Trump campaign, weaponizing their previous complaints against Bill Clinton as ammunition against then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Stone's tactic resonated with journalists who persistently ignored (or never knew) salient facts about those old cases. In 1998, a Republican judge threw out the Jones sexual harassment complaint, as The New York Times reported, "flatly rejecting all of (her) claims that she suffered sexual harassment and emotional distress" in a 1991 encounter with Clinton. In 1999, independent counsel Kenneth Starr conceded that Willey had violated her immunity agreement with him by lying to prosecutors. (Her friend Linda Tripp also testified that Willey had lied.) The Starr Report, following months of exhaustive investigation, noted that the evidence concerning Broaddrick's claim that Clinton had raped her in 1978 — including her repeated denials of that story under oath — proved "inconclusive."

Yet Stone's sinister misuse of #MeToo achieved its political objective: to draw attention away from nearly two dozen credible women who said that Donald Trump assaulted or harassed them. (Among the most harrowing stories was a sworn account of marital rape and bloody violence by his first wife, Ivana Trump, that she later partially recanted.) One of those credible accusers, E. Jean Carroll, is pursuing her defamation case against him in court.

Meanwhile, Trump and his associates still seem worried over what may emerge about his unsavory friendship with Epstein. A tape found in the NBC archives shows them partying in 1992 — with Ghislaine Maxwell — at Mar-a-Lago in the company of numerous young women. Following Maxwell's recent arrest, the president blurted out, "I wish her well," a curious remark about a woman charged by the Justice Department with sexual abuse of minors. Just the other day, his son Donald Trump Jr. erupted in a rant on Fox Business News so unhinged that the anchor had to end the interview midway.

Bill Clinton's account of his dealings with Epstein has been consistent for years. There is still no evidence that he knew anything about the mysterious financier's crimes, nor even a single accusation of misconduct by Clinton. The former president used Epstein's plane to carry out his foundation's medical relief mission in Africa and Asia — and Epstein used Clinton's name to seek status, as many others have done. Period.

Trump is the master of projection and distraction. Whatever misdeed he and his gang attribute to others, you can be sure he feels guilty of that same offense himself. The Epstein case is no exception.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.