United States President Donald Trump held his first media briefing on the coronavirus in almost three months today, but it was derailed by a left-field question about a completely unrelated subject – accused child sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell.
Maxwell, who allegedly helped Jeffrey Epstein procure and sexually abuse underage girls, is currently in jail in New York. She has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges.
Towards the end of Trump's briefing, which until that point had focused solely on the pandemic, a reporter asked him to speculate on whether Maxwell would reveal the names of powerful men involved in the sex ring in return for a deal from prosecutors.
"Ghislaine Maxwell is in prison, and a lot of people want to know if she's going to turn in powerful people. I know you've talked in the past about Prince Andrew, and you've criticised Bill Clinton's behaviour. I'm wondering, do you feel that she's going to turn in powerful men? How do you see that working out?" the reporter asked.
"I don't know, I haven't really been following it too much. I just wish her well, frankly," Trump replied.
"I have met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach. And I guess they [Maxwell and Epstein] lived in Palm Beach. But I wish her well, whatever it is.
"I don't know the situation with Prince Andrew. I'm just not aware of it."
Several viewers were stunned by the President's decision to wish an accused child sex trafficker well.
Maxwell was arrested and charged earlier this month.
Prosecutors accused her of "conspiring with Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse minors", alleging she both "facilitated" and "participated in" his crimes.
"Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, and then delivered them into the trap that she and Jeffrey Epstein had set," said the Acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss.
"She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while, she was setting them up to be abused sexually by Epstein and, in some cases, Maxwell herself."
"The heinous crimes these charges allege are, and always will be abhorrent for the lasting trauma they inflict on victims," added New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.
Several of Epstein's victims have publicly described the role Maxwell allegedly played in his sex ring.
In 2017, a legal case filed by Sarah Ransome described Maxwell as his "highest ranking employee", saying she managed his sex life, recruited young girls and helped conceal the activity from law enforcement.
Ransome alleged Maxwell and Epstein had threatened to hurt her and ruin her career if she refused to have sex with their associates.
In a 2015 deposition, Virginia Guiffre alleged Maxwell approached her at her place of work — the Mar-a-Lago spa — in 2000, and recruited her to be a "masseuse". Guiffre was 16 at the time.
"We can train you. We can get you educated. You know, we can help you along the way if you pass the interview. If the guy likes you, then you know, it will work out for you. You'll travel. You'll make good money. You'll be educated, and you'll finally get accredited one day," Maxwell promised her.
In her own deposition, Maxwell conceded her job involved hiring "all sorts of people" to work in Epstein's six homes, but rejected any suggestion of misconduct.
"A very small part of my job was, from time to time, to find adult professional massage therapists for Jeffrey. As far as I'm concerned, everyone who came to his house was an adult professional person," she said.
Guiffre told a much more sinister story.
She alleged in court documents that the first time she met Epstein, Maxwell instructed her to "take off my clothes and to give oral sex" to him.
She was later forced to engage in sex acts with a number of men. She alleges Prince Andrew was one of them.
"My whole life revolved around just pleasing these men and keeping Ghislaine and Jeffrey happy," she said.
The first woman to ever report Epstein and Maxwell to law enforcement was Maria Farmer.
Farmer, an artist, met the pair in 1995. Epstein hired her to procure art for his massive townhouse in New York.
Speaking to 60 Minutes after Maxwell's arrest, Farmer said she had witnessed Maxwell drawing young girls into Epstein's orbit.
"Several times I was in the car with her, and she would ask the driver to stop the car. And she'd dash across to the school or the park or wherever she was going, and she would write down her phone number for a child, a young girl," she said.
"And then I'd see that child at the house. And she'd say, 'She's auditioning.'"
The story Maxwell gave Farmer was that the girls were models. At the time, Epstein claimed to help manage Victoria's Secret, and Maxwell was supposedly his talent scout.
"I thought it was really strange because I did see a couple of girls in braces. And I've never seen a model in braces," said Farmer.
Any illusion Epstein had successfully created fell away one night, when Farmer alleges both he and Maxwell sexually abused her.
"Ghislaine came in to get me one evening. Basically, Ghislaine escorts me to Jeffrey's room," she recounted.
Epstein told her to sit down next to him. Maxwell joined them. Then, Farmer alleges, they assaulted her.
"The whole time I'm thinking, 'My sister has been around these people. My sister is 16. She's been around them alone,'" she said.
Farmer's fears were justified. Her younger sister Annie had indeed been another victim.
She went to the FBI, which at the time did nothing in response. Maxwell responded with a campaign of threats and intimidation.
"Originally, it started with things like, 'I'm going to burn your art,'" Farmer said.
"Then, 'I'm going to burn your career.' And then, 'I'm going to burn you and the house you live in. And then it was, 'Oh, be careful crossing a street, you know, you can get shot in the back of the head.'
"They were threats against my life. And I told the FBI this."
Giuffre told 60 Minutes she was "elated" to know that Maxwell "is where she belongs", in prison.
"She ruined so many lives. She belongs in jail. You want to hurt kids? That's where you go," she said.
"She is the most narcissistic, evil, vain woman I've ever known. And she's finally been knocked off her pedestal."
Guiffre expressed hope that Maxwell would now turn on others who were involved in Epstein's crimes and reveal their names to the authorities.
"I really hope she comes forward and says, 'A, B, C, D, E was involved; this is how it ran.' You know, just help us victims get some accountability," she said.
Now that she has been arrested, Maxwell could take her chances in court, or try to reach a plea deal of her own.
The sex ring she allegedly ran with Epstein reportedly catered to a number of rich and powerful men. She could reveal their names to investigators and testify against them in an attempt to get herself a lighter sentence.
"I'm sure that Ghislaine's attorneys will try everything. They will try to make a deal where, perhaps, she speaks out about a bigger name in order to get reduced charges for herself," Lisa Bloom, the lawyer representing one of Epstein's victims, said the day she was arrested.
"But she herself is a big name. With Jeffrey Epstein's passing a year ago, she is one of the biggest names of people who were involved in this scheme."
Spencer Kuvin, who represents six of the victims, said his clients hoped Maxwell's arrest was "just the beginning".
"On behalf of the victims, we are very happy that the US Attorney's office has decided to move forward on this arrest, which is hopefully just the beginning. We're hopeful that there will continue to be additional arrests with respect to other co-conspirators," Kuvin said.
"The victims are very sceptical because there have been arrests in the past and the US government has not followed through."