The woman led me up a monumental staircase to a room on the second floor overlooking the Frick museum across the street. It was quiet, the lighting dim, and the air-conditioning was set very low. After a few minutes, Mr. Epstein bounded in, dressed casually in jeans and a polo shirt, shook my hand and said he was a big fan of my work. He had a big smile and warm manner. He was trim and energetic, perhaps from all the yoga he said he was practicing. He was undeniably charismatic.
Before we left the room he took me to a wall covered with framed photographs. He pointed to a full-length shot of a man in traditional Arab dress. “That’s M.B.S.,” he said, referring to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The crown prince had visited him many times, and they spoke often, Mr. Epstein said.
He led me to a large room at the rear of the house. There was an expansive table with about 20 chairs. Mr. Epstein took a seat at the head, and I sat to his left. He had a computer, a small blackboard and a phone to his right. He said he was doing some foreign-currency trading.
Behind him was a table covered with more photographs. I noticed one of Mr. Epstein with former President Bill Clinton, and another of him with the director Woody Allen. Displaying photos of celebrities who had been caught up in sex scandals of their own also struck me as odd.
Mr. Epstein avoided specifics about his work for Tesla. He told me that he had good reason to be cryptic: Once it became public that he was advising the company, he’d have to stop doing so, because he was “radioactive.” He predicted that everyone at Tesla would deny talking to him or being his friend.
He said this was something he’d become used to, even though it didn’t stop people from visiting him, coming to his dinner parties or asking him for money. (That was why, Mr. Epstein told me without any trace of irony, he was considering becoming a minister so that his acquaintances would be confident that their conversations would be kept confidential.)
If he was reticent about Tesla, he was more at ease 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.