President Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed he’d had a “falling out” with accused child sexual predator and billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago, years before the latter man was charged with soliciting prostitution from a minor.
Epstein was recently charged with two counts of sex trafficking involving girls as young as 14.
“I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him,” the president said Tuesday, speaking to reporters in the White House. “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 him for 15 years. I wasn’t a fan.”
Trump reiterated that he was “not a fan” of Epstein’s before pivoting his attention back to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, whose name had been brought up moments earlier.
Acosta previously served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida and arranged a plea deal with Epstein in the mid-2000s that, according to The Miami Herald, concealed the full extent of Epstein’s solicitation crimes and the individuals involved.
Asked about the mounting demands for Acosta to resign his post over his role in that controversy, Trump demurred, saying only that there had been “a lot of people involved in that decision” to extend Epstein a controversial plea deal that was all but hidden from Epstein’s victims and granted immunity to any alleged co-conspirators.
“I feel badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta, because I have known him as being somebody who works so hard and has done such a great job,” Trump said. “I feel very badly about that whole situation.”
Trump distances himself from Jeffrey Epstein: "I wasn't a fan" pic.twitter.com/cYXKAztfmW
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) July 9, 2019
The president’s remarks on Tuesday are in stark contrast with his past praise of Epstein, who was charged recently by federal prosecutors with trafficking minors at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida. The indictment alleges that Epstein, along with several employees, would call young girls to his homes whenever he was in town, forcing them to remove their clothes to massage him before sexually abusing them. The girls were allegedly paid hundreds of dollars to remain quiet about the abuse.
In a 2002 interview with New York Magazine, Trump called Epstein a “terrific guy.”
“He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump said. “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.”
Tuesday appears to be the first time that Trump spoke openly about his apparent “falling out” with Epstein. He could not offer a more specific time frame or reason for the rift, only noting that it happened “a long time ago.”
Reached for comment by The Washington Post this week, Alan Garten, an attorney for the president’s namesake company, the Trump Organization, said Trump had “no relationship” with Epstein.
Garten also said the president had “banned” Epstein from visiting his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach around 2007. Prior to that, photos placed Epstein at the property in 1997 and 2000, when he posed for photos with Trump. “He banned him from stepping foot on the property,” Garten said.
Trump’s comments on Tuesday were echoed earlier in the day by counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway. Conway told reporters outside the White House that the two men had not spoken for some time, though her time frame for the falling out appeared to differ slightly from the president’s.
“I talked to the president this morning,” Conway said. “He hasn’t talked or had contact with Epstein in years and years and years — and over a decade at least, he said.”
Moments later, she added, “He doesn’t think he’s talked to him or seen him in 10 or 15 years. And he, like everyone else, sees these charges, the description of these charges against Epstein, as completely unconscionable and obviously criminal. Disgusting, really.”