(CNN)In one of Jeffrey Epstein’s last interviews, he told a reporter for The New York Times that he had dirt on a number of famous people and that criminalizing sex with teenagers was a “cultural aberration.”
The interview with James B. Stewart, a Times columnist, staff writer at The New Yorker and acclaimed author, came a year ago at Epstein’s mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
“The overriding impression I took away from our roughly 90-minute conversation was that Mr. Epstein knew an astonishing number of rich, famous and powerful people, and had photos to prove it,” Stewart wrote in the Times on Monday.
“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.”
Evidence to back up those claims was lacking, however.
The interview was conducted “on background,” a journalistic term that means Stewart could use the information but not attribute it to Epstein directly. But Stewart wrote that he considered that condition to be over with Epstein’s apparent suicide in prison on Saturday morning.
Epstein, “undeniably charismatic,” escorted him around his extravagant Upper East Side apartment while wearing jeans and a polo shirt.
He showed off photos of Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who Epstein said had visited him many times. And he also displayed photos of himself with former President Bill Clinton and director Woody Allen — two other figures with their own prominent sex scandals.
The visit came as Stewart researched a rumor that Epstein was advising Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who was facing legal scrutiny for tweeting that he was thinking about taking the company private and had secured funding to do so.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment. A spokesman for Tesla and Musk “vehemently” denied to the Times that Epstein ever advised Musk on anything.
Indeed, Stewart writes that much of what Epstein said was “vague or speculative and couldn’t be proved or disproved,” and he suggests this was intentional.
“It seemed clear Mr. Epstein had embellished his role in the Tesla situation to enhance his own importance and gain attention — something that now seems to have been a pattern.”
But while he was cryptic about Tesla, he did open up when discussing his interest in young women.
“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,” Stewart wrote.
Epstein was charged in federal court last month for operating a sex trafficking ring from 2002 to 2005 at his Manhattan mansion and his Palm Beach estate in which he paid girls as young as 14 for sex. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. He had long been suspected of improper sexual relations with underage girls, and he negotiated a controversial plea deal in 2007 in Florida that allowed him to escape federal charges and plead guilty to lesser state prostitution charges.