In July 2019, all eyes were on Jeffrey Epstein as he entered a Manhattan federal courtroom in prison blues and orange sneakers. The reclusive multimillionaire, used to luxurious jaunts around the globe with powerful friends, appeared disheveled as he was charged with sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
Police had arrested the 66-year-old financier two days before, and a packed crowd of journalists, lawyers, and victims now watched him plead not guilty to child sex-trafficking charges—more than a decade after he avoided serious prison time for molesting scores of teenage victims at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.
But while the press focused on Epstein, one high-profile spectator apparently went unnoticed—at least, unnoticed by most. Two eyewitnesses say former White House lawyer Kathryn Ruemmler was at Epstein’s court appearance that day in his support, The Daily Beast has learned.
Two people who separately attended the hearing said Ruemmler—who served as White House counsel during the Clinton and Obama administrations—had a “professional relationship” with Epstein and was seated behind his defense team.
At the time, Ruemmler was a partner at Latham & Watkins and global co-chair of the law firm’s white-collar defense and investigations practice.
“Epstein knew her,” one source with knowledge told The Daily Beast of her appearance in court in July 2019. “He had a professional relationship with her. I think he may have reached out to her to be involved in the case.” The source said Ruemmler’s appearance was “probably just a show of support.”
“She worked for a large, prominent firm,” the person said. “There was some exploration of her joining the [defense] team, but it wasn’t going to happen.”
Ruemmler did not return messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Latham & Watkins said neither the law firm nor Ruemmler represented Epstein; she did not return follow-up emails from The Daily Beast.
Martin Weinberg, a lawyer for Epstein since 2008, said Ruemmler didn’t represent the financier and wasn’t a member of the defense team led by himself and Reid Weingarten. “I can state with certainty that Kathy Ruemmler did not represent Mr. Epstein and did not appear at any hearing at any time on his behalf,” Weinberg said in an email.
Ruemmler has previously represented the Clinton Foundation and George Nader, a key witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation who was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for child sex trafficking.
She left Latham & Watkins in April to become global head of regulatory affairs at Goldman Sachs. After the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month, Fox News reported Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden possibly put Ruemmler on the short list of nominees to fill a future SCOTUS seat.
Indeed, Ruemmler and other Obama-era officials hosted a D.C. event for Biden last November as his fundraising waned before the primaries. According to the Washington Examiner, Ruemmler told the crowd the 2020 election came down to “character,” and “there is no one who has the strength and the quality of character, no one like Joe Biden.”
Ruemmler has long traveled the revolving door between public service and Latham & Watkins, whose phalanx of former high-ranking government lawyers inspired a Wall Street Journal blog to call the firm “the DOJ’s home away from home.”
At Latham, Ruemmler defended companies in high-stakes litigation, led internal probes into misconduct, and averted indictments through Department of Justice “declinations,” or decisions not to prosecute which are similar to non-prosecution agreements. (She did, however, secure a non-prosecution agreement for Microsoft Hungary, which last year paid $8.7 million in penalties to resolve a foreign bribery case.)
Her career began with a clerkship under a federal appeals judge, followed by a job at litigation boutique Zuckerman Spaeder in Washington, D.C., before she was hired as a lawyer for President Clinton from 2000 to 2001.
She then moved to the Department of Justice, where she made headlines as a lead prosecutor in the Enron financial fraud trial. (Weingarten, one of Epstein’s D.C.-based legal eagles, faced off with Ruemmler when he represented Richard Causey, Enron’s former chief accounting officer who pleaded guilty to securities fraud.)
In 2007, she left government for Latham & Watkins. She joined the Obama administration two years later as the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General at the DOJ. Ruemmler replaced her mentor, Bob Bauer, as White House counsel in 2011 and became one of President Obama’s closest confidantes. When she announced her resignation in 2014, Obama said, “Kathy has become one of my most trusted advisers over the past few years. I deeply value her smarts, her judgment, and her wit—but most importantly her uncanny ability to see around the corners that nobody else anticipates.”
Later asked in an interview how she’d like to be remembered, Ruemmler paraphrased Bauer: “She told it like it was; she never put even light icing on the cake.”
After the Obama White House, Ruemmler returned to Latham but was soon in the running to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. But she withdrew her name from consideration—reportedly because she feared her closeness to Obama, and her handling of matters including the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, would make for a difficult confirmation process.
“She felt very strongly that it would not serve the department well, and that it certainly wouldn’t serve the president well, to have the confirmation process be a series of partisan attacks on the president rather than a reasoned approach to what the Department of Justice really needs right now,” one source told Politico.
Under the Clinton administration, Ruemmler defended the White House in congressional investigations and “independent counsel issues, including those related to former Pentagon worker Linda Tripp, who famously taped colleague Monica Lewinsky,” according to one Washington Post profile on Enron prosecutors.
But Ruemmler’s ties to the Clintons didn’t end with Bill's presidency. She’s mentioned in emails published on WikiLeaks, including those belonging to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chair John Podesta. One email attachment listed Ruemmler under a March 2016 list of possible campaign “vetters,” while several other emails indicated Ruemmler was a participant in more than one “Biweekly Hill Strategy Call.”
In August 2016, Ruemmler was identified as “the Clinton Foundation’s principal lawyer” when Reuters, as well as the New York Post, reported the organization hired a security firm in the wake of suspected hacking. It’s unclear how long she represented the Clinton family charity or what other work she’s done for them.
Ruemmler also recently defended the Democratic National Committee and Perkins Coie—the law firm representing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign—in a defamation suit filed by Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to Donald Trump.
Page claimed the parties developed the Steele dossier, which was “replete with falsehoods about numerous individuals associated with the Trump campaign,” leading the feds to “wrongfully and covertly” surveil Page as an agent of Russia. (A federal judge in Chicago tossed Page’s suit in August, saying the court lacked jurisdiction; Page filed a similar suit in Oklahoma in 2018 but it was dismissed for the same reason.)
Ruemmler’s alleged ties to Epstein raise further questions on the financier’s high-powered connections, including Bill Clinton. Clinton’s name has surfaced repeatedly in court filings related to Epstein and his alleged accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell, and he took international trips with the perverted pair on Epstein’s private jet. The former president denies knowing anything about Epstein’s abuse of young women and girls and denies one victim’s claim that he visited Epstein’s Virgin Islands compound.
Several Clinton staffers are listed in Epstein’s infamous rolodex, including Cheryl Mills, who was deputy White House counsel for Clinton during his 1999 impeachment trial. Mills was an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run and chief of staff when Clinton became Secretary of State. Along with Podesta, Mills oversaw Clinton’s search for a running mate in 2016 and was included in emails with Ruemmler.
In years past, both Epstein and Maxwell donated thousands to the Clinton Foundation and “Clinton Library.” When Epstein’s lawyers secretly negotiated a plea deal for his abuse of minors in Florida in 2007, they plugged his friendship with former President Clinton and claimed he helped to create the Clinton Global Initiative.