WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump once called accused billionaire child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein a "terrific guy," but the White House said Tuesday Trump does not recall seeing or talking to him in 10 or 15 years.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said when she discussed the new indictment against the financier with Trump, the president "like everyone else, sees these charges- the description of these charges against Epstein as a completely unconscionable, and obviously criminal- disgusting really."
In 2002, years before he entered politics, then real estate magnate Trump told an interviewer, “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. 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."
Trump's first public thoughts on the Epstein case and the indictment prosecutors filed against him on Monday, came amid a growing demand by lawmakers, including opposition Democrats and some Republican colleagues of Trump, for the resignation of Alexander Acosta, Trump's secretary of labor in his Cabinet, for his role in the Epstein case. The White House has resisted.
Acosta, as the chief federal prosecutor in southern Florida more than a decade ago, negotiated a guilty plea agreement with Epstein on similar sex trafficking charges in which he served only 13 months in a county stockade and was released half of most days to work at his office, even as a federal investigation was ended. The newest sex trafficking charges against the 66-year-old Epstein were brought by federal prosecutors in New York, accusing him of exploiting dozens of underage girls from 2002 to 2005, and if he is convicted, could result in as much as a 45-year term.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late Monday that Acosta "must step down. As U.S. Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement with Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice.” A judge has ruled that prosecutors wrongly failed to tell Epstein's victims about their intention to resolve the case with a light sentence.
Pelosi said Acosta's role in the Epstein case was known by Trump "when he appointed him to the cabinet."
On Tuesday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer also called for Acosta's resignation, as other lawmakers already have demanded. Sen. Ted Cruz, a staunch Republican supporter of Trump, said he agreed Acosta should quit, calling Epstein's conduct "despicable" and that "everyone who participated should be vigorously prosecuted."
But Conway dismissed Pelosi's call for Acosta's resignation, saying, "It's classic her and her Democratic Party to not focus on the perpetrator in hand, instead of focus on a member of the Trump administration. They’re so obsessed with this president, that they immediately go to Alex Acosta rather than Jeffrey Epstein. As far as I can see, Jeffrey Epstein is the one who allegedly ... sure looks a strong evidence to me is touching, if not raping young girls.”
Acosta has defended the resolution of the Florida case, in part because it required Epstein to register as a sex offender.
In Monday's indictment, Geoffrey Berman, a federal prosecutor in New York, accused Epstein of allegedly paying the girls hundreds of dollars for nude or partially nude massages that "increasingly were sexual in nature" at his mansion on New York's Upper East Side and at his estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
The prosecutor said Epstein often paid some of the victims, some as young as 14, to recruit other underage girls that he then also abused.
"The alleged behavior shocks the conscience," Berman said of Epstein, who was arrested over the weekend when he flew back to the U.S. from Paris on his private jet. The prosecutor said that after Epstein's arrest, investigators searched his New York home and found a cache of lewd photos in a safe "of what appeared to be underage girls."
Despite the fact that the allegations against Epstein stem from incidents that occurred more than a decade ago, Berman said, "We want to make sure (the accusers) have their day in court by bringing these charges." In a court appearance, Epstein pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Epstein is a well-connected financier whose friends also included former President Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew, and numerous other celebrities.