Trump called Epstein 'terrific guy' before denying relationship with him

Washington — Back in 2002, when Jeffrey Epstein was known only as a mysterious financial whiz with a private island and a roster of A-list friends, being friendly with him was something to boast about. And Donald Trump did.

"I've known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy," Trump told New York Magazine that year for a story headlined "Jeffrey Epstein: International Moneyman of Mystery." "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. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life."

Now, Epstein is in jail, charged with sex trafficking by federal prosecutors who allege he abused dozens of underage women in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York.

And now, Trump doesn't claim that friendship.

Alan Garten, an attorney for the Trump Organization, has said Trump had "no relationship" with Epstein.

Outside of Trump's own words, there is clear evidence that the two men — both members of the same high-flying societies in Manhattan and Palm Beach — socialized together in the past.

Epstein visited Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and posed for photos there with Trump in 1997 and 2000. Epstein's voluminous personal address book — leaked by an Epstein employee in 2009 — contained 14 phone numbers for Trump, his wife, Melania, and members of his staff, according to media reports.

The relationship, whatever it was, appears to have cooled by 2007. Garten said in an interview Monday that although Epstein was never a member of Mar-a-Lago, Trump prohibited him from visiting the club around that time, as a reaction to criminal charges that had been filed against Epstein.

"He banned him from stepping foot on the property," Garten said. He said Trump's private attorneys were not contacted during the more recent investigation of Epstein, which resulted in a 14-page federal indictment unsealed Monday.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

In the earlier case, Epstein pleaded guilty to Florida charges of soliciting prostitution to resolve allegations that he molested dozens of girls. That arrangement — overseen by then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, who is now Trump's secretary of labor — has been widely criticized as too lenient. As part of the deal, Epstein had to spend a little more than a year in jail.

Epstein, 66, has owned a home since 1990 in Palm Beach, about 2 miles north of Mar-a-Lago. Even if he wasn't formally a member of Trump's club, he appears to have visited it for social events - not an unusual arrangement for some of Palm Beach's elite, according to Laurence Leamer, who recently wrote a history of Mar-a-Lago.

"Lots of people were let in who weren't really members," Leamer said. Trump made money when these nonmembers paid for things, and he also reaped the social benefits if they were spotted at his club.

Other evidence of Trump's acquaintance with Epstein has surfaced in court filings: One filing said Epstein's brother Mark recalled in 2009 that Trump had flown on Epstein's plane at least once. In addition, Vice News reported that a message pad, obtained by investigators from Epstein's home, showed Trump had left two phone messages for him in November 2004.

The reason for Trump's calls was not given, according to the messages reproduced online by Vice.

Epstein's address book, published by the website Gawker in 2015, listed Trump's contact information and that of hundreds of other people, including former President Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew.

Brad Edwards, an attorney who has represented some of Epstein's alleged victims, said he sought out Trump in 2009, seeking to interview Epstein's acquaintances.

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. I'll tell you what you need to know,' " Edwards said in a 2018 interview on YouTube.

In that interview, Edwards said Trump "was very helpful in the information that he gave and gave no indication whatsoever that he was involved in anything untoward whatsoever." Edwards said he never took Trump's deposition.

Edwards on Monday declined to elaborate on the assistance Trump gave.


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