JUST “HIM AND EPSTEIN” AND “28 GIRLS”: FLORIDA MAN DROPS A DIME ON TRUMP
Donald Trump now says he’s “not a fan” of Jeffrey Epstein, a convenient way to feel about the disgraced financier in the aftermath of his 2008 conviction on soliciting underage girls for prostitution and his indictment Monday on charges of sex trafficking minors. (Epstein has pleaded not guilty.) But that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Trump could be counted among Epstein’s rich, well-connected friends. And, according to a report in the New York Times on Tuesday, the relationship may have been a good deal closer than the president has let on.
Per the Times, Trump in 1992 directed Florida businessman George Houraney—who would later accuse Trump of sexually harassing his former girlfriend and business partner, Jill Harth—to organize a members’ only “calendar girl” competition at Mar-a-Lago. After Houraney “arranged to have some contestants fly in,” he told the Times in an interview Monday, he discovered that there would be only two attendees. “At the very first party, I said, ‘Who’s coming tonight? I have 28 girls coming.’ It was him and Epstein,” Houraney recalled. “I said, ‘Donald, this is supposed to be a party with V.I.P.s. You’re telling me it’s you and Epstein?’” The anecdote underscores the friendship between the pair, and suggests that their relationship proceeded in spite of warnings about Epstein’s behavior. Houraney “pretty much had to ban Jeff from my events,” he said. “Trump didn’t care about that.”
Like other powerful Epstein associates, the president has sought to downplay their relationship, telling reporters on Tuesday that they had a “falling out” about fifteen years ago and haven’t spoken since; “That I can tell you.” But in 2002, Trump spoke differently of his fellow billionaire: “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.” The two were friends and ran in similar social circles, attending the same dinner parties, according to the Times—including one Epstein hosted for Prince Andrew, who has also been accused of sexually abusing minors, though he denies the allegations. Trump and Epstein did eventually have a falling out, though the reason is unclear. The Times reported Tuesday that some believe the relationship soured after a business deal between them fell through.
Regardless, Trump took pains to publicize the fact that Epstein had become persona non grata at his properties, and may even have considered Epstein’s relationship with Bill Clinton as a potential weapon against his future 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. As my colleague Emily Jane Foxreported Tuesday, around the time he was mulling his White House bid in 2015, Trump was discussing with National Enquirer owner David Pecker how the 42nd president’s association with Epstein could impact Hillary’s nascent candidacy. “[Michael Cohen] was sitting in there when I came in, and the issue of the National Enquirer with the pictures of Prince Andrew was on his desk,” former Trump aide Sam Nunberg told Fox. “[Trump] said not to tell anyone, but that Pecker had just been there and had brought the issue with him. Trump said that Pecker had told him that the pictures of Clinton that Epstein had from his island were worse.”
While the White House plays defense—Trump and Epstein haven’t spoken in “over a decade,” adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Tuesday—details continue to trickle out. Trump, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women (charges he denies), “routinely intersected [with Epstein] for decades,” the Times reported Tuesday, owning to their shared Palm Beach neighborhood and frequent appearances in the tabloids. His labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, was instrumental in brokering a cushy plea deal for Epstein. The financier’s downfall has triggered renewed scrutiny both of Trump’s personal conduct and of the fitness of those around him to serve in their administrative roles. And more details could well be forthcoming