President Donald Trump offered well wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell, the woman accused of helping convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein abuse young girls, during his first coronavirus press briefing in months.
Trump on Tuesday held a briefing on the pandemic, which has killed more than 140,000 Americans for the first time since April 27. Some media outlets praised his "new tone" for acknowledging that infections were spiking and urging others to wear masks, even as he used the briefing to lie about the success of his pandemic response and call for a dramatic cut to federal unemployment benefits for millions of laid-off workers.
At one point during the briefing, Trump was asked about whether Maxwell, who was charged by the Department of Justice with child sex trafficking earlier this month, would reveal the names of powerful people like Prince Andrew alleged to have been involved in Epstein's sex trafficking operation.
"I don't know. I haven't really been following it too much," Trump replied. "I just wish her well, frankly. I've met her numerous times over the years — especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach — but I wish her well, whatever it is."
Maxwell, who is being held without bail at a federal detention facility, is not only accused of recruiting and grooming girls for Epstein to abuse but also participating in the abuse herself, according to the Justice Department.
"As alleged, Ghislaine Maxwell facilitated, aided and participated in acts of sexual abuse of minors," acting US Attorney Audrey Strauss said. "Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her and then delivered them into the trap that she and Jeffrey Epstein had set. She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while, she was setting them up to be abused sexually by Epstein, and in some cases, Maxwell herself."
"I don't know the situation with Prince Andrew," Trump added on Tuesday. "I just don't know. Not aware of it."
But Trump actually seemed to know quite a bit about the situation in 2015, when he linked Prince Andrew to Epstein's private island, where the billionaire was accused of bringing powerful men to abuse girls.
"I think he has a problem. That island was really a cesspool — there's no question about it. Just ask Prince Andrew — he'll tell you about it," Trump said at the time. "The island was an absolute cesspool."
Trump also frequently passed time with Epstein and Maxwell in Palm Beach, where they were often pictured together.
"It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side," Trump said of Epstein in 2002. "No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life."
Epstein was found hanged in his cell last year while awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges in New York. Trump said after his arrest that he was "not a fan" of Epstein.
"I had a falling out a long time ago with him," Trump said last year. "I don't think I've spoken to him in 15 years. I was not a fan of his."
Trump's latest comments about Maxwell sparked concern at the Justice Department. A federal prosecutor told Politico that the comment may be a signal that Trump would intervene in Maxwell's case in a similar manner in which his administration intervened in the case of longtime adviser Roger Stone.
"He takes time out of his press conference to send well wishes to a woman accused of trafficking teenager girls for sex," the prosecutor said. "That's gross on its face, and in the aftermath of the Stone pardon, it reeks of the president indicating to her that he might reward her if she'll stay silent about whatever she knows about him."