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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Trump on Ghislaine Maxwell: ‘I wish her well’

Ghislaine Maxwell has been accused of child sex trafficking in connection to her late friend Jeffrey Epstein, the financier and convicted sex offender. Her charges include recruiting and grooming girls as young as 14 into a circle of sexual abuse with possible connections to powerful men around the world.

President Donald Trump wishes her well.

Speaking during a White House news briefing on the coronavirus, Trump on Tuesday managed to keep on topic for much of his appearance — a contrast to his earlier news briefings that have often devolved into quasi-campaign rallies. But he left the topic of the pandemic once to answer a question about Maxwell’s case.

“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,” Trump said of her case.

Maxwell was arrested earlier this month on charges of transporting children for illegal sex acts and lying during investigations into Epstein. She was accused of encouraging young girls to become close to Epstein, having him pay for their outings and asking about their family lives. The interactions were meant to “normalize sexual abuse” that occurred at Epstein’s properties, according to her indictment. Maxwell, who faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted, has denied the charges.

Maxwell was arrested about a year after Epstein, who was also charged with sex trafficking. Epstein was found dead in his New York jail cell about a month after his arrest. His death was ruled a suicide. He had served more than a year in prison after being convicted in 2008 on charges that included procuring an underage girl for prostitution.

Epstein and Maxwell maintained expansive social circles and have been photographed with a host of famous men, including former President Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew of Britain and Trump himself. Federal prosecutors have pushed for Prince Andrew to help in their investigation, but he has so far kept mum after largely withdrawing from public life in the aftermath of the scandal.

During the Tuesday briefing, a reporter asked Trump whether he felt that Maxwell would turn in any powerful men in her network. Trump shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t really been following it too much. I just wish her well, frankly.”

Trump’s comment raised eyebrows at the Justice Department, with one department prosecutor noting the president failed to comment on the death of the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in New Jersey, whose family was attacked on Sunday by a gunman dressed as a delivery courier at their front door.

“The president has nothing to say about a gun-toting madman who just murdered the son of a federal judge. But he takes time out of his press conference to send well wishes to a woman accused of trafficking teenager girls for sex,” the prosecutor told POLITICO.

Referring to Trump’s granting clemency to his former adviser Roger Stone, 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.”

Betsy Woodruff Swan contributed to this report.

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