Melinda French Gates Says She Was Upset With Bill Gates’s Meetings With Jeffrey Epstein

Melinda French Gates said she was upset with Bill Gates’ past meetings with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, addressed the Microsoft Corp.

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co-founder’s prior affair and said the two have a working relationship focused on philanthropy, speaking in her first television interview since she and Mr. Gates divorced last year.

Ms. French Gates said during a CBS interview that aired Thursday there were many matters that led to the billionaires’ divorce but she did not like that Mr. Gates had meetings with Mr. Epstein and made that clear to Mr. Gates. She said she met with Mr. Epstein one time herself. “I wanted to see who this man was, and I regretted it from the second I stepped in the door,” Ms. French Gates said in the interview. “I had nightmares about it afterwards; my heart breaks for these young women. ”

Ms. French Gates and Mr. Gates announced their divorce in May 2021, with the former saying in documents the marriage was “irretrievably broken.” The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Ms. French Gates was concerned by her former husband’s meetings with Mr. Epstein, with her worries dating as far back as 2013. The Journal also reported that Ms. French Gates and her divorce lawyers held a number of calls in October 2019 when media reports emerged that Mr. Gates had met with Mr. Epstein on numerous occasions.

Ms. French Gates said any further questions about Mr. Gates’s relationship to Mr. Epstein are for Mr. Gates to answer. In a statement released by his spokeswoman Thursday, Mr. Gates said: “Meeting with Epstein was a mistake that I regret deeply. It was a substantial error in judgment. ” He said he remains dedicated to his work at the Gates Foundation in partnership with Ms. French Gates. Mr. Epstein died in jail in August 2019 awaiting trial on federal charges related to sex trafficking.

Ms. French Gates acknowledged her hurt, anger and pain during and since the divorce. She also addressed an affair Mr. Gates had in 2000, saying she believes in forgiveness. In response to a question about whether Mr. Gates had multiple affairs, Ms. French Gates said he needs to answer those questions.

“It was not one moment or one specific thing that happened,” Ms. French Gates said. “There just came a point in time where there was enough there that I realized it just wasn’t healthy and I could not trust what we had.”

The Journal has reported that a 2019 letter from a Microsoft employee about her past affair with Mr. Gates led some Microsoft board members to investigate the matter, and Mr. Gates resigned from the board amid that probe. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gates has said there was an affair almost 20 years ago and that his decision to leave the Microsoft board in 2020 was not related to the matter.

Ms. French Gates also said the two still have a working relationship and remain co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s largest philanthropies with an endowment of more than $ 50 billion. The Gates Foundation has recently named new board members, adding outsiders for the first time, as part of efforts to add more governance and independence to the organization.

“I believe in that institution, I believe in what we do; my values ​​are baked into that institution, ”Ms. French Gates said in the CBS interview. She said sometimes she would be in tears soon before an online Foundation meeting but she still rose to the occasion and that the two can continue to do that.

In July, the foundation said if after two years either of the co-chairs decides they can no longer work together to lead the foundation, Ms. French Gates would resign as co-chair and trustee, according to terms of a private agreement in their divorce. Should that happen, Ms. French Gates would receive funds from Mr. Gates that are separate from the foundation’s endowment for her own philanthropic work.

“We certainly have a working relationship,” Ms. French Gates said in the CBS interview. “I would say we’re friendly at this point.”

Ms. French Gates in late 2021 published a new giving pledge, recommitting to give away the bulk of her wealth but did not specify it would solely go to the Gates Foundation. She also cited in the letter her own firm Pivotal Ventures, which focuses on issues affecting women and families.

“I do believe that if you are lucky enough to be a billionaire, believe me, you can give away half of it and not change your life,” she told CBS.

Write to Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com

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