US President Donald Trump has come under fire for expressing his support to Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, who is facing charges for sex trafficking.
Maxwell is currently in jail after being denied bail at a court hearing last week, and is accused of recruiting, grooming and sexually abusing minors as young as 14.
What did Donald Trump say?
During a White House press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday (21 July), President Trump said: "I just wish her well, frankly."
Trump acknowledged that he has met Maxwell “numerous times” over the years, although with regards to her case he said he “hadn’t been following it too much”.
Maxwell, 58, will remain behind bars until her trial next summer, after she was denied bail at last Tuesday’s (14 July) hearing.
She has pleaded guilty to charges of recruiting and grooming underage girls so that her ex-boyfriend Jeffery Epstein could sexually abuse them.
Trump’s comments came after he was asked if he thought Maxwell would turn in other powerful men, including Prince Andrew, who were potentially involved with Jeffrey Epstein.
Speaking at the press briefing, Trump said: "I haven't really been following it [Maxwell's case] too much.
"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."
Epstein, who was an alleged billionaire sex trafficker, died by suicide in jail last year.
His former girlfriend, Maxwell, is now facing charges of enticement and conspiracy to entice minors to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation and consipiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and two counts of perjury.
She was ordered to remain in jail by the federal judge pending her trial as it was expressed that her significant financial resources and international ties make her a flight risk.
Why are Trump’s comments thought to be a ‘coded message’?
Anthony Scaramucci, who was Trump’s communications director for just 10 days in 2017, has speculated that the President’s comments regarding Maxwell were a front.
Scaramucci has suggested that Trump’s well-wishes were simply a coded message to urge Maxwell not to talk.
In a tweet posted on Wednesday (22 July), Scaramucci said: “She has the goods on him. He is signalling ‘please don’t talk’.”
It’s not the first time he has spoken out in support of Epstein-related conspiracy theories.
Scaramucci has previously speculated that the billionaire was actually murdered in prison, rather than believing he took his own life.
He was sacked in 2017 after publicly ridiculing a number of Trump’s top advisors in the press, and has since been critical of the President.
What are Trump’s ties to Epstein?
Donald Trump was one of many high profile figures in Epstein’s friendship circle, with the pair both regular fixtures in New York and Palm Beach society circles.
Trump told New York Magazine that he had known Epstein for 15 years and described him as a “terrific guy”, but later distanced himself when allegations of sex offences emerged in 2019.
He said he “was not a fan” of the disgraced billionaire and had a falling out with him, but acknowledged that he knew him.
Trump said: “I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. He was a fixture in Palm Beach.
“I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years.”
According to the Washington Post, the two men fell out in 2004 after each trying to buy the same Palm Beach mansion. Trump eventually won the auction and later sold the home for more than twice the $41.35 million he originally spent on it.
However, the competition over the property is reportedly what brought an end to the pair’s friendship.