Bill Gates says he regrets his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, calling it a ‘huge mistake’

Gates, as chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,attends a global health conference put on by the United Nations on September 25, 2008 in New York.
Bill Gates at a global health conference put on by the United Nations on September 25, 2008, in New York. Don Emmert/Getty Images

Bill Gates discussed his marriage to Melinda French Gates, his past relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, and Microsoft’s workplace culture in his first public appearance since his divorce was finalized early this week.

Gates appeared in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday to discuss his work against COVID-19. But the billionaire philanthropist first responded to questions regarding his personal relationships.

Gates and French Gates officially ended their 27-year marriage Monday, which he called “a very sad milestone.”

“Melinda’s a great person, and that partnership that we had coming to an end is a source of great personal sadness,” Gates told Cooper. “We are communicating and working at the foundation, so that partnership we’re going to try and continue.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced in early July that the split couple would enter a two-year trial period to see whether they could still work together. If not, French Gates will resign as cochair of the foundation, leaving Gates with full stewardship.

“We always enjoyed our work together,” Gates said Wednesday. “The two of us can go out and work with leaders and help build the organization, so that would be definitely the best thing for the foundation.”

In the interview, Gates also addressed his former wife’s concerns about his ties to the disgraced financier Epstein, who had already been convicted of sex crimes when Gates met with him.

“I had several dinners with him, hoping that what he said about getting billions of philanthropy for global health through contacts that he had might emerge,” Gates told CNN. “When it looked like that wasn’t a real thing, that relationship ended.”

He continued: “But it was a huge mistake to spend time with him, to give him the credibility. There were lots of others in the same situation, but I made a mistake.”

The Microsoft cofounder was also asked about reports of several women who worked for his company and the Gates Foundation accusing him of creating an uncomfortable workplace environment.

In 2006, Gates was said to have asked a female Microsoft employee out to dinner, writing in an email, “If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,” according to The New York Times. A woman who worked for the Gates Foundation also told The Times that Gates asked her to dinner at a cocktail party in 2007 or 2008.

In late 2019, Microsoft board members opened an investigation into Gates after an employee said she had a sexual relationship with him for years. A representative for Gates acknowledged “there was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably.”

Cooper also asked Gates about the workplace culture at the financial firm that manages his fortune. In 2018, French Gates was said to be unhappy with the way Gates handled a sexual-harassment inquiry into his longtime wealth manager, Michael Larson – pushing for an independent investigation after Gates attempted to settle the case confidentially.

Asked by Cooper whether he had regrets, Gates said: “Well, certainly I think everyone does, but it’s a time of reflection, and at this point, I need to go forward.”

“My work is very important to me,” he added. “Within the family, we’ll heal as best we can and learn from what’s happened.”