At President Trump’s news conference Tuesday, which was supposed to be about COVID-19, he was asked an easy question. Not about the pandemic. Not about reopening schools. About Ghislaine Maxwell, alleged accomplice of Jeffrey Epstein, who died before he could be tried on sex trafficking charges.
Maxwell was arrested this month and now sits in jail in Brooklyn, accused of helping Epstein recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls.
A reporter asked Trump whether Maxwell might implicate any of the famous men in Epstein’s circle. Prince Andrew, say. Or Bill Clinton.
All Trump had to do was go boilerplate: “These allegations against Maxwell are very serious,” he could have said, “and I hope justice is done.” Instead, he sent his regards to Maxwell. Best wishes to Ghislaine, who has pleaded not guilty, as she stews in jail.
Trump, as he helpfully reminded the briefing room, was Epstein’s and Maxwell’s neighbor in Palm Beach. After Epstein was first convicted, of soliciting a child for prostitution, the president claimed that their friendship had been over for years. But Trump once called Epstein a “terrific guy.” As for Maxwell, “I just wish her well, frankly,” Trump said Tuesday.
“I wish her well,” he repeated.
Prosecutor Twitter started to pop off.
“I can think of four times when Trump has publicly extended his best wishes to people charged with federal crimes by DOJ: Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort — and now Ghislaine Maxwell,” tweeted former federal and state prosecutor Elie Honig.
What do Stone (convicted felon), Flynn (pleaded guilty to a felony) and Manafort (convicted felon) have in common? They’re all people Trump has had a powerful interest in silencing. Blowing Maxwell figurative kisses, the Twitterverse suggested, could be a way to signal that he has her back.
As early as the 1980s, Trump and Epstein “swam in the same social pool,” as the Washington Post put it. Epstein long bragged that he introduced Trump to his current wife, Melania.
In 1992, Epstein and Trump were the sole male guests at a Mar-a-Lago party with 28 young women flown in “for entertainment.” Video from another 1992 Mar-a-Lago party surfaced last year showing the two men appraising NFL cheerleaders and Trump pawing at one.
Trump has never been implicated in Epstein’s terrible history, detailed in Julie K. Brown’s omnibus expose last year in the Miami Herald. And yet Trump’s sympathy for Maxwell not only put the two men together again in people’s minds; it also hit the “refresh” button on the president’s leering, exploitative history with women.
You may think you’ve heard enough about Trump’s genital-grabbing, but don’t go numb.
Trump has hoped that with payoffs, aggressive attorneys and Twitter intimidation he can avoid real consequences for his history of adultery, ritual humiliation of women, harassment and sexual abuse.
But it’s all in plain sight.
Virginia Heffernan writes for the Los Angeles Times