Tuesday, July 9, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to cut himself free from the unfolding Jeffrey Epstein child sex trafficking scandal.

Trump was forced to address his and his administration's connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the hedge fund manager who was given a notoriously lenient sentence for sex crimes against children, and who now faces new charges for child sex trafficking. He expressed sympathy for his labor secretary, Alex Acosta, whose as a prosecutor signed off on an extremely light sentence, and then illegally tried to hide the details of that deal from Epstein's victims. Trump also claimed he'd had a "falling out" with Epstein and that he "wasn't a fan."

Trump made no mention at all of Epstein's dozens of known victims.

Asked about his confidence in Acosta, Trump said, "I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta because I’ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job." He also floated the idea that Acosta wasn't really responsible: "I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him."

As for his relationship with Epstein, Trump explained it this way:

Well, I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. I mean, people 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. I wasn’t a fan. I was not — yeah, a long time ago. I’d say maybe 15 years. I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you. I was not a fan of his.

This is either a lie or a convenient mis-remembering. Trump was a fan of Epstein's, at least for a while. In New York magazine's 2002 profile on Epstein, Trump told a reporter, "I’ve known Jeff for fifteen 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. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

Trump is not directly implicated in Epstein's alleged child sex trafficking, although he has openly admitted to behavior with girls and young women that ranges from creepy to criminal.

However, Trump is acting very worried by the unfolding Epstein drama. Probably the most important sign of how seriously Trump is taking the potential for scandal is the behavior of his famously Trump-protective attorney general, William Barr. Yesterday, Barr recused himself from the Epstein case, as he had promised senators he would at his confirmation hearing. Barr has several connections to Epstein that would normally prevent him from being involved: he was a partner at the law firm that defended Epstein, and Barr's father gave Epstein (then a college dropout) a job at a private school in New York.

Today, Barr "unrecused" himself.

Why should I care about this?

  • The attorney general is not the president's personal "fixer."
  • Presidents are responsible for appointing people who the public can trust with power.
  • Reality doesn't change just because the president wants to remember it differently.