President Trump is on the witness list in a Florida court battle over how federal prosecutors handled allegations that Jeffrey Epstein, 64, sexually abused more than 40 minor girls, most of them between the ages of 13 and 17. The lawsuit questions why Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, former Miami U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, cut a non-prosecution deal with Epstein a decade ago rather than pursuing a federal indictment that Acosta’s staff had advocated.
Although Epstein’s friends and visitors once included past and future presidents, rock stars, and some of the country’s richest men, he is no longer a social magnet. Epstein pleaded guilty to a Florida state charge of felony solicitation of underage girls in 2008 and served a 13-month jail sentence. Politicians who had accepted his donations, including former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, have scurried to give them back. (Harvard University kept a $6.5 million gift, saying it was “funding important research” in mathematics.)
But Epstein’s unusually light punishment — he was facing up to a life sentence had he been convicted on federal charges — has raised questions about how Acosta handled the case.
Acosta is Trump’s second nominee to be secretary of labor; the first, Andrew Puzder, withdrew last month after Senate Republicans questioned his past employment of an undocumented housekeeper. Support for Acosta seems strong, as some Democrats and union leaders have joined with Senate Republicans in praising the nominee, who has been confirmed for federal positions three times in the past.
Although Trump and Bill Clinton flew on Epstein’s plane and visited his homes, neither president has been accused of taking part in the sexual misdeeds. But lawyers for Epstein’s victims say Trump nonetheless may have useful information. Trump banned Epstein from his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach “because Epstein sexually assaulted an underage girl at the club,” Bradley Edwards, an attorney who represents three of the young women, said in court documents.
Lawyers involved with the various Epstein cases said there is virtually no chance that the president will be required to testify in a matter in which both sides agree his involvement was tangential.
Trump and Clinton are both among the dozens of names that appeared in a “black book” of Epstein’s phone contacts that his houseman, Alfredo Rodriguez, obtained. Rodriguez, who died in 2015, was convicted of obstruction of justice in 2010 after he tried to sell the book for $50,000 to lawyers representing Epstein’s victims. In the book, Rodriguez circled the names of contacts he said were involved in sexual misbehavior at Epstein’s properties. There were no circles around the names of Trump, Clinton or other boldfaced names such as former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and celebrities Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, David Frost and Jimmy Buffett.