Epstein is widely known for throwing lavish parties, with celebrity guests like Katie Couric, Kevin Spacey, and of course, Donald Trump.
In a 2011 Vanity Fair profile of Epstein, a young woman recounted her experience with the guests at one such party:
"'These were not women you'd see at Upper East Side dinners,'" the woman recalls. "'Many seemed foreign and dressed a little bizarrely.' This same guest also attended a cocktail party thrown by Maxwell that prince Andrew attended, which was filled, she says, with young Russian models. 'Some of the guests were horrified,' the woman says."Johnson, however, was more vague in her descriptions of the parties. She told me she was given outfits to wear, but wouldn’t go into detail about what she was asked to do. I asked her how many people attended the parties, and she couldn’t put her finger on an exact figure.
"I mean, I don't know if I can put number on it," she said. "It wasn’t just like a small party, but it wasn’t a huge party either … I don't know, I can't really explain it. It was just … So many things that I wasn't aware of even happened, or existed, I saw at these parties.”
Hearing her answers that night, I had to remind myself that PTSD from sexual trauma is known to damage victims' memories — and that the parties she recalled allegedly happened more than two decades ago. But Mike Fisten, a retired Miami-Dade detective who conducted research for several of Epstein's victims, denied such parties ever even took place.
"Jeffery never had parties like described in their complaint," Fisten told me. "Jeffery had sex parties, for sure, with two or three girls … but never with other guys."
There were men in attendance at Epstein’s more large, lavish affairs, Fisten said, but nothing illicit ever happened at such events.
"He loved having these young girls around him," Fisten acknowledged. "…But at these parties, with everyone around, nothing ever happened."
When I asked Johnson to describe the parties she attended, she spoke mainly of how awestruck she felt.
"One of the main things I remember seeing and feeling were just things that were way more elegant than I had ever seen," she told me. "I felt like, this is worth a lot of money, more than I would ever probably see in my life. Just very elegant stuff, and very rich people…"
A large staircase, which matches one Vicky Ward described in the Vanity Fair profile, is among the "elegant stuff" Johnson mentioned in our interview. Johnson also described Epstein as looking "put together," and "under-dressed when everyone else was over-dressed," which also matches Ward’s description of Epstein’s uniform: jeans, knit shirts, and loafers.
Another common theme in both women's accounts is the fear Epstein strikes in those he meets.
"He has a way of spooking you, does Epstein. Or he did," Ward later reflected in a piece for The Daily Beast. "…He'd asked which hospital I was giving birth at — and I was so afraid that somehow, with all his connections to the academic and medical community, that he was coming for my little ones that I put security on them in the NICU."
When I asked Johnson if she ever considered pressing charges before this, she said yes.
"I mean I knew that what they did was wrong," she told me, "but I didn't know … I was afraid something bad would happen if I did."
Jeffery Epstein's mugshot.
These women had reason to be scared: Epstein’s predatory behavior is well-documented.
Less publicized, however, is the predatory behavior of one Donald Trump.
In 1993, Trump’s former wife, Ivana, accused him of raping her after an altercation over her cosmetic surgeon. The description of the event, contained in Harry Hunt’s Trump biography "Lost Tycoon," is hauntingly violent. A former co-worker, Jill Harth, accused him of forcing her into her daughter's bedroom and attempting to have sex with her in 1997. Ivana later retracted her claims, but Harth is standing by hers.
"The same year that Harth accused Trump of assault, he was photographed "out on the town" with Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s girlfriend — and another of his underage-girl recruiters. Virginia Roberts, who said Epstein made her a "sex slave" and loaned her out to his friends, was allegedly recruited by Epstein at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Trump has also been documented attending parties at Epstein’s townhouse in the early 2000s, and message pads from Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion show calls between the two in 2004.
Epstein plead the fifth during a 2010 trial, when asked whether his social outings with Trump ever included underage women. Trump, however, openly discussed Epstein’s penchant for younger women in an interview with New York Magazine.
"I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy," he said. "He's 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. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life."But Epstein entertained dozens of high-profile guests, including Revlon chairman Ronald Perelman, real-estate tycoon Leon Black, and even former president Bill Clinton. Is Trump and Epstein’s friendship enough to place him at Epstein’s apartment on the night of the alleged assault? Detective Fisten doesn't think so."I interviewed hundreds of victims — people who were victimized by Jeffrey, worked with him, were part of his organization," Fisten told me. "I interviewed them, the FBI interviewed him … Trump never came up involved in this part of his life anywhere, at any time, by anybody."
Asked why Trump was named in this lawsuit, Fisten said flatly, “They threw Trump’s name in there.”
With the allegations against Epstein and Trump covered, I turned my attention to the other shadowy figure in this story: Al Taylor (or according to The Guardian, Norm Lubow).
"I'm sorry?" she responded.
"Did anyone help you or encourage you in the filing of that first lawsuit?" I repeated. "I'm sure it was a very monumental decision."
That's when her lawyer jumped in.
"I definitely don't mind you answering this question," Meagher told Johnson. "But because of all the hoopla about the peripheral characters in this, I certainly don't mind you saying that you got help, but I don't want you to identify who helped you."
When I finally convinced Meagher to allow Johnson to speak openly, she admitted that Taylor had been instrumental in the filing of the lawsuit. She said they had been introduced through a mutual friend, who urged her to go to Taylor with the story. The friend believed Taylor had the resources to bring her accusations to light.
"[Taylor is] for lack of a better term, a good team player," Johnson told me. "If I need help with something, he's there to help me. ... He knows a lot about a lot of different fields that just have been really helpful to this entire thing, and I couldn’t have done it without him. I wouldn’t have done it without him."
Norm Lubow in the documentary 'Kurt and Courtney.'
But when I talked to Steve Baer, a conservative donor who has been rallying media attention around this case (and against Trump) he told me a different version of the story.
"Al says he's a friend of Katie's," Baer told me. "He met her at a party that a friend held — I think it was a Christmas or holiday party — about two years ago."
At that party, Baer recounted, Taylor asked Johnson conversationally whether she had any good celebrity gossip. Eventually, Johnson told him the story of her assault. At the time, Baer claims, Taylor didn't want to touch the story. But when Trump's campaign started picking up steam, he circled back around to Johnson.
"They concluded, I think on advice of friends of Al's in media, that the way journalists would feel comfortable about writing about this story would be if it were attached to a lawyer and a plaintiff's case," Baer told me. "Because that way Katie doesn't have to be out front and at personal risk for her life and safety."
As for Meagher, he thinks all the focus on Taylor's involvement is a distraction from the real issue at hand: The alleged rape of a 13-year-old-girl. As he put it in a recent email to me, centering this narrative on Taylor is "allowing the sins of others to be visited upon my client."
The day after my interview, Baer forwarded me a letter Johnson looked to have written that day.
The letter's recipient is none other than Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives.
"I am an independent person who wants only one thing," the politically-charged letter says. "I want to stop the evil, sick, pedophile pervert who raped me when I was only 13 from becoming president of this great country of ours."
I don't know if Johnson wrote that letter. In fact, I don't know if the Katie Johnson I spoke to is the same girl who Trump allegedly raped in 1994, or if that girl even exists. I have never seen Johnson — in person, or via FaceTime, as I was originally promised — and I have not spoken to her only eyewitness, Tiffany Doe. To my knowledge, no journalist has.
All I know is the reason why the woman I spoke to on July 11 chose to speak to me at all."I just want to get justice,” she told me. "I mean, these things happen to girls everywhere ... I just want people to know."
Revelist reached out to the Trump campaign twice for comment and received no response.