At an Oval Office meeting in July 2020, Donald Trump asked aides if Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend of the financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein who had been arrested on sex trafficking charges, had named him among influential contacts she might count upon to protect her.
According to a new book by Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, Trump asked “campaign advisers … ‘You see that article in the [New York] Post today that mentioned me?’
“He kept going, to silence. ‘She say anything about me?’”
Epstein was convicted and sentenced in Florida in 2008, on state prostitution charges. He was arrested again in July 2019, on sex-trafficking charges. He killed himself in prison in New York a month later.
Links between Epstein, Maxwell and prominent associates including Trump and Britain's Prince Andrew have stoked press speculation ever since.
Maxwell, the daughter of the British press baron Robert Maxwell, was arrested in New Hampshire on 2 July 2020.
The story which seemed to worry Trump, according to Haberman, appeared in the celebrity-focused Page Six section of the New York tabloid on 4 July 2020.
It quoted Steve Hoffenberg, an Epstein associate, as saying: “Ghislaine thought she was untouchable – that she’d be protected by the intelligence communities she and Jeffrey helped with information: the Israeli intelligence services, and Les Wexner, who has given millions to Israel; by Prince Andrew, President Clinton and even by President Trump, who was well-known to be an acquaintance of her and Epstein’s.”
Maxwell was ultimately convicted in New York in December 2021, on five of six charges relating to the sex-trafficking of minors. In July 2022, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In February this year, Prince Andrew settled a civil case brought by an Epstein victim who alleged she was forced to have sex with the royal. Andrew vehemently denies wrongdoing but has suffered a collapse of his standing in public and private.
Haberman’s eagerly awaited book, Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, is published in the US on Tuesday.
A longtime Trump-watcher who worked for the Post before the Times, Haberman recounts Trump’s business career over 40 years in New York as well as his campaign for president, four tumultuous years in the White House and his continued, disruptive presence in US public life.
Epstein and Maxwell do not feature extensively. Describing a flight taken by Trump in 1997, a New Yorker writer in tow, Haberman says Maxwell, “by then a close confidante of Trump’s friend Jeffrey Epstein”, was on the private jet as it flew to Florida.
Haberman does not describe Maxwell’s reaction to Trump abandoning his chosen inflight movie – Michael, starring John Travolta as an angel – in favour of Bloodsport, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, and having “his 13-year-old son, Eric, fast-forward through much of the dialogue to get to the fight scenes”.
But Haberman does describe a New York meeting in early 2015, before Trump launched his campaign for president, between Trump and David Pecker.
The owner of the National Enquirer tabloid, Haberman says, arrived at Trump Tower “with a copy of the tabloid featuring Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein, the investor and convicted sex offender and onetime friend of Trump, with whom Trump had fallen out years earlier”.
Pecker and Trump “talked about Epstein’s private island, where he was rumoured to bring powerful men to have sexual encounters with young women. Trump called it ‘whore island’ and told aides he had never been there”.
Haberman also quotes Sam Nunberg, a former adviser, about what Trump said around that time when asked what his biggest worry was about running for president.
“Trump had a simple reply,” Haberman writes. “‘The women.’ Not business, not being violent with anyone, Nunberg recalled, but women.”
Trump has been accused of sexual harassment, misconduct or assault by more than 20 women. The writer E Jean Carroll is suing him for defamation, over his response to her claim he raped her in the 1990s. Trump denies all such allegations.
Pecker was shown to have been involved in “catch and kill” operations, in which women who claimed affairs with Trump, including the Playboy model Karen McDougal, were paid for their stories, which were never published.
According to Nunberg, “Trump pointed up toward his penthouse”, where his third wife, Melania Trump, then lived.
“I’ll get in trouble upstairs,” Trump said.
Haberman also reports that after the “ugly” 2016 election, Melania Trump “renegotiated her prenuptial agreement”.