President Donald Trump fielded questions from reporters on Tuesday about his relationship with financier Jeffrey Epstein, who pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of sex trafficking of minors. Trump also weighed in on the controversy entangling Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, the former U.S. attorney who approved a plea deal for Epstein that has been widely derided as overly lenient.
“I can tell you that for two and a half years, he’s been just an excellent Secretary of Labor,” Trump said. “He’s done a fantastic job.”
The president praised Acosta’s work in his administration and downplayed his involvement in the Epstein plea deal, suggested that other U.S. attorneys could similarly regret past decisions they have made in their careers.
“I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision — not just him,” he added, suggesting his administration would review Acosta’s record.
Watch the video below via C-SPAN:
President Trump on Jeffrey Epstein: "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 a fan of his…I feel very badly actually for Secretary Acosta." pic.twitter.com/vtIOCUhH8s
— CSPAN (@cspan) July 9, 2019
On his personal ties to Epstein, Trump remarked that “everybody in Palm Beach knew him.”
But Trump claimed he had long distanced himself from Epstein:
“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 feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta,” Trump added, “Because I’ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job.”
Acosta issued a statement on Tuesday calling Epstein’s crimes “horrific” and defended the work of federal prosecutors in the original case.
Trump is just one of a number of powerful celebrities and politicians who moved in Epstein’s social circle at one point, a long list that includes former President Bill Clinton.
Previously, Trump’s praised Epstein as a “terrific guy” in a 2002 magazine profile of the financier — before Epstein’s first trial and subsequent plea deal.
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump told New York Magazine at the time. “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.”