President Trump, who has trafficked in conspiracy theories since he entered public life, seemed to cross a line Saturday by sharing a tweet that tied former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the jailhouse death of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Trump’s retweet of comedian Terrence K. Williams’ post with the hashtag #ClintonBodyCount drew outrage on the Sunday morning news broadcasts — except on Fox News, where his senior adviser Kellyanne Conway defended it.
“You know, this is just more recklessness,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“What he’s doing is dangerous,” added Booker, who is running for president. “He’s giving life to not just conspiracy theories, but really whipping people up into anger and worse against different people in this country.”
Epstein had been held for a month in the Metropolitan Correctional Center — a jail run by the federal Bureau of Prisons, a part of the U.S. Department of Justice — in Manhattan on sex trafficking charges. He was found unconscious in his cell Saturday morning, according to authorities, and pronounced dead in a nearby hospital. Authorities said he hanged himself.
On Saturday night, Trump retweeted a pair of messages that, without evidence, tied Epstein’s death to the Clintons.
The one from Williams, which misspelled Epstein’s first name, read in part: “#JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead. We know who did this.”
There is a long history of far-right conspiracies about the Clintons murdering their enemies, going back to the death of White House aide Vince Foster in 1993, which was also ruled a suicide. More recently, right-wing commentators, notably including Fox News’ Sean Hannity, pushed a conspiracy theory about the death of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was baselessly accused of leaking emails during the 2016 campaign. Rich was shot late at night on a Washington street in what police have declared a botched robbery.
Yahoo News Chief Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff traced the history and spread of this rumor in “Conspiracyland,” a new podcast series.
Epstein, a millionaire who claimed to run a hedge fund, although the source and amount of his wealth are unclear, did have ties to Bill Clinton, who has acknowledged he flew on the financier’s plane multiple times for trips connected to the Clinton Foundation.
But Epstein had also been friends with Trump in the 1990s, and socialized with elites in government, academia and fashion. MSNBC recently aired video, from 1992, of Trump and Epstein partying together at the president’s Florida estate and commenting on women there.
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Trump told New York magazine in 2002. “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.”
The other tweet shared by Trump was from an account called BNL News and concerned court documents unsealed on Friday in a civil case involving Epstein: “BREAKING: Documents were unsealed yesterday revealing that top Democrats, including Bill Clinton, took private trips to Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘pedophilia island.’”
Epstein owned a private island in the Caribbean where, by some accounts, he would party with teenage girls. Clinton has denied visiting the island.
Clinton’s press secretary called the Trump-fueled conspiracy theory “ridiculous.”
Ridiculous, and of course not true — and Donald Trump knows it. Has he triggered the 25th Amendment yet? https://t.co/Pa8M8pAenr— Angel Ureña (@angelurena) August 11, 2019
On “Fox News Sunday,” Conway, the White House counselor, defended the retweets, saying the president “just wants everything to be investigated.”
But Trump has long trafficked in various conspiracy theories, including infamously promoting the false idea that former President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.
Booker connected this latest conspiracy theory to others, including “Pizzagate,” that have led to violence.
“Remember, this is a nation now where we have just seen horrific acts, whether it is someone walking into a pizza shop, based upon these kind of conspiracy theories, to take violent action,” he said on CNN. “We see people’s lives being threatened because this president whips up hatred.”
“The President of the United States just retweeted this conspiratorial s***,” said former Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill. “The President of the United States just retweeted it. The President of the United States just retweeted it. The President of the United States just retweeted it.”
Another Democratic presidential candidate, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas, called the Trump-promoted conspiracy a distraction from the mass shooting last weekend in his hometown of El Paso. Authorities say the gunman, who killed 22 people at a Walmart, had targeted Latinos.
“This is another example of our president using this position of public trust to attack his political enemies with unfounded conspiracy theories,” O’Rourke said on CNN, “and also to try to force you and me and all of us to focus on his bizarre behavior.”
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