LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman defended a former MIT official who accepted donations from Jeffrey Epstein

Former MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito is not the only person tied to the organization that's facing scrutiny because of the lab's secret ties to Jeffrey Epstein. The Lab's powerful sponsors — including LinkedIn founder and executive chairman Reid Hoffman — have become implicated in the cover-up.

Hoffman defended Ito to author and fellow MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award jury member Anand Giridharadas in a private email, Giridharadas tweeted on Friday. "Hoffman basically hid behind bureaucracy and the old 'ongoing investigation' excuse," Giridharadas said. "He said it would be complicated to release the correspondence publicly because other names might get dragged in. Someone should tell him about redaction."

According to Giridharadas, Hoffman wrote in a second email that Giridharadas was making the situation "all about you" by threatening to resign. In the end, Giridharadas resigned.

Hoffman not only sits on the Disobedience Award's jury, but funds it personally according to the Media Lab's website. In 2017, MIT awarded Epstein and other donors "orbs" to thank them for their support, according to The Boston Globe. The orb looks similar to the trophy given to winners of the Disobedience Award.

"These elite networks protect each other above all, common good be damned," Giridharadas tweeted about the situation Friday. "MIT will investigate itself and absolve itself, is my guess." MIT President L. Rafael Reif announced in a letter to the MIT community that the university's legal counsel will initiate an independent investigation following Ito's resignation Saturday.

Ito and Hoffman have a well-documented relationship outside of their work at MIT. The pair spoke on a panel together at the WIRED25 Festival in October 2018 in San Francisco, photos of the event on Getty Images show. Hoffman also once said that Ito "makes well-networked professionals look like hermits," according to The New York Times. Before his resignation on Saturday, Ito held posts at MIT, The New York Times Company, and the MacArthur Foundation.

This is not the first time Hoffman has been connected to Epstein. A "few years ago," Epstein attended a dinner Hoffman hosted to honor an MIT neuroscientist, Vanity Fair reported in July. Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk were also in attendance. Both denied having had ongoing relationships with Epstein to Vanity Fair through spokespeople.

Read more: The famous connections of Jeffrey Epstein, the elite wealth manager who died in jail while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges

Epstein's work with the MIT Media Lab has tied him to other powerful business figures including Leon Black and Bill Gates, the New Yorker's Ronan Farrow reported Friday. Epstein served as a go-between Ito and the billionaires, emails published by the New Yorker show.

Microsoft, of which Hoffman is a board member, did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider on Hoffman's reported defense of Ito or his personal connection to Epstein.

A spokesperson for Bill Gates told Business Insider that "Epstein was introduced to Bill Gates as someone who was interested in helping grow philanthropy. Although Epstein pursued Bill Gates aggressively, any account of a business partnership or personal relationship between the two is simply not true. And any claim that Epstein directed any programmatic or personal grantmaking for Bill Gates is completely false." The contents of emails sent between Ito and the lab's former Director of Development and Strategy, Peter Cohen, contradict that statement.

Epstein was found dead after an apparent suicide August 10. At the time of his death, he'd been awaiting trial for charges of sex trafficking in a New York jail.

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