The scandal surrounding Jeffrey Epstein, his criminal charges, and his many alleged underage victims is multifaceted, complicated by the fact that the defendant has socialized with some very powerful friends. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
Jeffrey Epstein has hobnobbed with some of the world's most powerful people during his jet-setting life. Future President Donald Trump called him a "terrific guy." Former President Bill Clinton praised his intellect and philanthropic efforts and was a frequent flyer aboard his private jet.The arrest of the billionaire financier on child sex trafficking charges is raising questions about how much his high-powered associates knew about the hedge fund manager's interactions with underage girls, and whether they turned a blind eye to potentially illegal conduct.
A spokesperson for Bill Clinton said yesterday that the former president "knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York." The statement did, however, note a series of instances in which Clinton made use of Epstein's private plane.
For Trump, the story is made more difficult by an infamous quote he made in 2002.
"I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy," the future president said. "He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it -- Jeffrey enjoys his social life."
Given that Epstein is now facing sex-trafficking charges and allegations that he abused dozens of underage women, Trump's "on the younger side" quote is now seen in a more horrific light.
An attorney for the Trump Organization has said Trump had "no relationship" with Epstein. I suppose "relationship" is a word with some nuance, but there are photographs of the two men socializing 20 years ago.
Asked about his previous rhetoric about Epstein, Trump told reporters this afternoon, "Well, I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. I mean, people in Palm Beach knew him; he was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don't think I've spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn't a fan. I was not -- yeah, a long time ago. I'd say, maybe 15 years. I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you. I was not a fan of his."
The president quickly added that he feels "very badly" for Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who signed off on Epstein's original sweetheart deal.
Whether Trump's comments this afternoon were true isn't altogether clear. The Washington Post had a report today on the two men's connections, and while there were no references to a falling out, the article noted that Trump banned Epstein from becoming a Mar-a-Lago member in 2007, following Epstein's first arrest.
That said, Epstein nevertheless attended events at the club, kept Trump's contact information in his Rolodex, and according to Epstein's brother, Trump flew on Epstein's plane at least once.
One of Trump's go-to moves is pretending not to know friends, associates, and employees once they run into trouble. We may be seeing the same gambit with Epstein now.
But either way, today probably won't be the last time the president is asked about his connections to the accused.