Column: Trump’s Ghislaine Maxwell shout-out hit the reset button on his exploitative history with women

Donald Trump in 2000 with, from left, his then-girlfriend Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.
Donald Trump in 2000 with, from left, his then-girlfriend Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.
(Davidoff Studios Photography / Getty Images)

At President Trump’s news conference Tuesday, which was supposed to be about COVID-19, he was asked an easy question. Not about the pandemic. Not about reopening schools. About Ghislaine Maxwell, alleged accomplice of Jeffrey Epstein, who died in prison by suicide one year ago, or so official reports say, before he could be tried on sex trafficking charges.

Maxwell was arrested this month and now sits in jail in Brooklyn, accused of helping Epstein recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls.

A reporter asked Trump whether Maxwell might implicate any of the famous men in Epstein’s circle. Prince Andrew, say. Or Bill Clinton.


All Trump had to do was go boilerplate: “These allegations against Maxwell are very serious,” he could have said, “and I hope justice is done.” If that was too difficult, why not take a shot at Clinton, who traveled with Epstein and hosted Maxwell at his daughter Chelsea’s wedding.

But the president couldn’t muster anything that suggested he disapproves of sexually abusing children. Instead, he sent his regards to Maxwell. Best wishes to Ghislaine, who has pleaded not guilty, as she stews in jail.

Trump, as he helpfully reminded the briefing room, was Epstein’s and Maxwell’s neighbor in Palm Beach. After Epstein was first convicted, of soliciting a child for prostitution, the president claimed that their friendship had been over for years. But Trump once called Epstein a “terrific guy,” and as for Maxwell, “I just wish her well, frankly,” Trump said Tuesday.

“I wish her well,” he repeated.

Prosecutor Twitter started to pop off.

“I can think of four times when Trump has publicly extended his best wishes to people charged with federal crimes by DOJ: Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort — and now Ghislaine Maxwell,” tweeted former federal and state prosecutor Elie Honig.

What do Stone (convicted felon), Flynn (pleaded guilty to a felony) and Manafort (convicted felon) have in common? They’re all people Trump has had a powerful interest in silencing.

Trump’s mob-style verbal thuggery with witnesses and rivals is well known. Remember what he said about Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine? “She’s going to go through some things.”

But he uses carrots, too. Blowing Maxwell figurative kisses, the Twitterverse suggested, could be a way to signal that he has her back.

As early as the 1980s, Trump and Epstein “swam in the same social pool,” as the Washington Post put it. Epstein long bragged that he introduced Trump to his current wife, Melania.

In 1992, Epstein and Trump were the sole male guests at a Mar-a-Lago party with 28 young women who had been flown in “for entertainment.” Video from another 1992 Mar-a-Lago party surfaced last year showing the two men appraising NFL cheerleaders and Trump pawing at one. Epstein, Trump told New York magazine in 2002, “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”


Trump has never been implicated in Epstein’s terrible history, detailed in Julie K. Brown’s omnibus exposé last year in the Miami Herald. On Thursday, White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, was at pains to point out that the president was “ahead of this, banning this man from his property long before this case was even being played out in a court of law.”

And yet Trump’s sympathy for Maxwell not only put the two men together again in people’s minds; it also hit the “refresh” button on the president’s five decades of leering, exploitative history with women.

You may think you’ve heard enough about Trump’s genital-grabbing, but don’t go numb.

One late-breaking charge came a year ago, when journalist E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a New York City department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. Trump denied knowing Carroll — though a photo of the two together exists — and went after her on Twitter. Carroll filed suit against him for defamation. She has asked Trump for a DNA sample to see if it matches substances on the dress she says she wore the day she encountered him at Bergdorf Goodman. His lawyers have sought to delay the proceedings.

Carroll’s is just one of many women’s stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment at Trump’s hands. A group of beauty-pageant contestants say he barged into their dressing rooms while they were in various states of undress. Porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal say they had affairs with him, then got paid, one way or another, for their silence.

Trump denies it all, but there are those canceled checks Michael Cohen produced in court, and back in the day, Trump boasted to Howard Stern that he could “sort of get away” with the beauty-queen break-ins (and more) because he owned the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants. On the infamous grab-them-by-the-genitals “Access Hollywood” tape, the man who is now president says, “When you’re a star, they let you do it.”

For four years, Trump has hoped that with payoffs, aggressive attorneys and Twitter intimidation he can avoid real consequences for his history of adultery, ritual humiliation of women, harassment and sexual abuse.

But it’s all in plain sight.