Major news outlets have covered the indictment of Jeffrey Epstein on federal sex trafficking charges as a major blow to President Donald Trump. But court documents publicized Monday undermine that narrative.
According to an ongoing lawsuit by Bradley Edwards, an attorney who represents a number of Epstein’s accusers, Trump years ago banned the billionaire financier from Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The reason Edwards gave is that Epstein had “sexually assaulted an underage girls at the resort.”
Edwards claimed that Epstein, 66, and his former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, had been using the club to recruit underage girls for sex. When exactly Trump, 73, barred Epstein from Mar-a-Lago was unclear. Neither Trump nor Mar-A-Lago had commented on the revelations in the lawsuit.
Edwards detailed the ties between the two men in 2009 in a failed attempt to get Trump to testify in a case against Epstein. However, the lawyer did not allege any wrongdoing by Trump. Rather, in an interview last year, he said that of the many people whom he subpoenaed in the case, Trump was “the only person who picked up the phone and said, ‘Let’s just talk. I’ll give you as much time as you want.'”
Edwards added that Trump, who was then a real estate mogul and reality TV star, “was very helpful, in the information that he gave.” Trump “gave no indication whatsoever that he was involved in anything untoward whatsoever,” Edwards also said.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good story
Epstein was arrested on Saturday, and he pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that, between 2002 and 2005, he sexually abused dozens of girls as young as 14 at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach. Soon thereafter, it was revealed that agents discovered an “extraordinary volume of photographs of nude and partially-nude young women or girls” during a weekend search of Epstein’s Manhattan mansion.
Trump’s apparent efforts over the years to ostracize Epstein and help bring him to justice bely much of the recent reporting on their relationship as potentially damning for the president. Much has been made of old photos of Trump and Epstein together, evidence that they sometimes socialized and testimony to Edwards that Epstein once flew Trump from Florida to New York on one of his planes.
“He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump said at the time. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
Trump on Tuesday told reporters he “was not a fan” of Mr. Epstein and that the two had a “falling out” and had not spoken for some 15 years.
Blame Trump for Epstein
Another popular media storyline has been that Trump is refusing to hold accountable Alexander Acosta, his labor secretary, for giving Epstein a sweetheart plea deal. In 2017, Acosta, then the top federal prosecutor in Miami, allowed Epstein to avoid federal criminal charges on earlier accusations that he molested underage girls. The agreement has since faced legal challenges.
On Monday, top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, demanded Acosta’s resignation.
Trump on Monday expressed sympathy for Acosta. But he went on to say that his staff was “looking very closely” at the Epstein case.
“I feel very badly actually for Secretary Acosta because I’ve known him as somebody who works so hard and has done such a good job,” he told reporters. “I feel very badly about that whole situation. But we’re going to be looking at that and looking at it very closely.”
Beyond the tendentious reporting, professional commentators have suggested that even if the president isn’t complicit in Epstein’s crimes – and there’s no evidence he is – he’s somehow still just as bad. In a column Tuesday for The Washington Post, Max Boot cited allegations of illegal behavior by the president, including of obstruction of justice and sexual misconduct. By his logic, the fact Trump has not been found guilty of crimes only proves that he’s another rich guy living above the law.
“Whatever Trump’s connections with Epstein, the president has been accused of so much criminal conduct that failure to bring him to justice undermines the message of ‘equal justice under the law’ sent by Epstein’s long-overdue indictment,” Boot wrote.
Don’t forget the Clinton connection
Meanwhile, the liberal-leaning press has paid considerably less attention to former President Bill Clinton’s relationship to Epstein. Conservative media has taken note, chalking it up to the usual media bias against the president.
Right-wing news outlets have also been more than happy to fill the gap in coverage of Clinton, who has his own history of alleged sexual abuse. Fox News recalled on Monday that court filings show Clinton traveled on Epstein’s private plane the “Lolita Express” 26 times. The Daily Caller reported that Epstein helped conceive an arm of the Clinton Foundation, according to a 2007 letter his lawyers sent to federal prosecutors.
However, on Tuesday, a Clinton spokesperson denied the former president had known anything about Epstein’s alleged sex crimes.
“President Clinton 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 read. “In 2002 and 2003, President Clinton took a total of four trips on Jeffrey Epstein’s airplane: one to Europe, one to Asia, and two to Africa, which included stops in connection with the work of the Clinton Foundation.”