President Donald Trump on Tuesday publicly addressed the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein, claiming he had a falling out years ago with the billionaire pedophile he once called “terrific.”
“I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him,” the president told reporters gathered in the Oval Office. “He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I’d say maybe 15 years.”
Despite gushing to New York magazine in 2002 that Epstein was a “terrific guy” who “likes beautiful women as much as I do,” the president claimed Tuesday that he “was not a fan of his. That I can tell you.”
Epstein was arrested Saturday for the alleged sex-trafficking of dozens of minors in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005. The hedge-fund manager allegedly preyed on girls as young as 14 at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, according to the 14-page indictment filed in Manhattan federal court on Monday.
The 66-year-old financier’s penchant for underage women was allegedly well-known among his circle of elite friends splitting their time between New York City and Palm Beach. In fact, in that 2002 New York interview, Trump described how among the women Epstein preferred, “many of them are on the younger side.”
Epstein’s arrest by the FBI-NYPD Crimes Against Children Task Force came nearly 12 years after he was given a sweetheart plea deal by then-U.S. District Attorney for Southern Florida Alex Acosta, now Trump’s secretary of labor.
As federal prosecutor, Acosta arranged a plea agreement that kept more than 30 of Epstein’s accusers in the dark about the deal allowing the billionaire to avoid federal prosecution.
The Department of Justice opened an investigation into the deal in February of this year to determine whether Acosta and his team “committed professional misconduct” 12 years ago. Separately, and less than a month later, a federal judge ruled that Acosta’s secret plea agreement was unconstitutional.
When asked Monday what he thinks about the labor secretary, in light of the renewed interest in the plea agreement, Trump responded by pointing to Acosta’s job performance.
“I can tell you that for two-and-a-half years he’s been just an excellent secretary of labor,” Trump told reporters. “He’s done a fantastic job. Now, part of it is our economy is so good, our unemployment numbers are at record lows. So many good things are happening.”
Several top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have called on Acosta to resign since Epstein’s arrest.
“What happened 12 or 15 years ago with respect to when he was a U.S. Attorney... if you go back and look at everybody else’s decisions... I would think you’d probably find that they would wish they maybe did it a different way,” Trump said. “I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him.”
The president concluded: “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. I feel very badly about that whole situation. But we’re going to be looking at that and looking at it very closely.”