Inside Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump's epic bromance
Beginning in the late ’80s, the infamous sex trafficker and the future president (and their mutual friend Ghislaine Maxwell) palled around for almost two decades. In an excerpt from his new book, American Kompromat, Craig Unger exposes their shared tastes for private planes, shady money, and foreign-born models—many of them “on the younger side.”
Ghislaine Maxwell saw Donald Trump as a vital connection for her then boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein early on. In the late ’80s, she had worked for her father, British media mogul Robert Maxwell, in London, first at Pergamon Press, then in another division that specialized in corporate gifts.
Thinking Trump would be a great catch as a client for her venture, she realized she had a terrific connection through her father, who knew Trump fairly well as a rival, bidding unsuccessfully to buy the New York Post, inviting him to party aboard the Lady Ghislaine, and attending extravagant society soirees.
Naively assuming that her father would appreciate her initiative, Ghislaine Maxwell asked him to call Trump. However, according to Nicholas Davies’s Death of a Tycoon, even though she was his favorite daughter, Robert Maxwell erupted. “Have you got your bum in your head?” he said. “Why the fuck would Donald Trump want to waste his time seeing you with your crappy gifts when he has a multimillion-dollar business to run?”
But her father was wrong. In the end, Trump spent plenty of time with Ghislaine Maxwell and Epstein. In fact, he fit in quite well with them. Arrivistes all — be it Epstein’s Coney Island, Trump’s Queens, or Robert Maxwell’s Eastern European shtetl — they had all come from the wrong side of the tracks. And at some point in their lives, Robert Maxwell, Trump, and Epstein all had ties to foreign intelligence agencies, arms dealers, and the sex trade.
It was a world of unimaginable decadence. The epicenter of the operation was Epstein’s enormously opulent Upper East Side townhouse. As a dwelling, it was less a home than a deliberately, extravagantly staged showcase, a calculated spectacle that declared to the world that Epstein, a college dropout from a middle-class Brooklyn family, had been embraced securely in the bosom of the powers that be.
Epstein’s notorious “black book” of contacts, compiled largely by Ghislaine Maxwell, shows the rarefied circles in which he traveled — Nobel laureates, heads of states, British royals, Wall Street power brokers, and A-listers in every glamour profession. Trump had no fewer than 16 phone numbers beside his name in Epstein’s black book.
Trump later recalled Epstein in those days. “Terrific guy,” he famously told New York magazine. “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.”
No one was more dazzled by the glamour of the Trump–Maxwell–Epstein axis than former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, who was so hypnotized by its lavishness that he professed not to see anything wrong with it. In fact, it was something you aspired to.
“In those days, if you didn’t know Trump and you didn’t know Epstein, you were a nobody,” Dershowitz, who later served on Epstein’s defense team, told The New York Times.
Within the context of their highly transactional relationships, Trump’s friendship with Epstein struck onlookers as a significant mutually beneficial connection.
In the ’90s, Trump needed friends. He had just gone belly-up in Atlantic City. In addition to helping Trump get back on his feet, Epstein seemed to be a latter-day Hugh Hefner — surrounded by gorgeous young women, bespoke private planes, and spectacular residences, all while Ghislaine Maxwell orchestrated a never-ending series of movable feasts at which Epstein would entertain and play courtier to presidents, movie stars, brutal dictators, world-class scientists, Wall Street billionaires, and the like.
And he’d have sex with two, three, or more young girls almost every day.
Trump fit right in. Epstein and Maxwell invited him everywhere — and Trump reciprocated. At one highly selective party in 1992 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, The New York Times reported, no fewer than 28 attractive young women were flown in to participate in a calendar-girl competition as entertainment.
The organizer, George Houraney, who ran American Dream Enterprise, a small Florida company that staged a calendar-girl contest and other events, was appalled to learn that there were only two male guests — Trump and Epstein.
“Donald, this is supposed to be a party with VIPs,” Houraney told Trump, according to the Times. “You’re telling me it’s you and Epstein? … I know Jeff really well, I can’t have him going after younger girls.”
But Trump ignored Houraney’s warning and plowed ahead anyway.
Houraney’s longtime girlfriend Jill Harth later told The New York Times that Trump groped her nonstop at a business meeting around the same time. “He was relentless,” Harth said, describing how Trump took the couple to dinner, sat beside Harth, and put his hands up her skirt all the way to her crotch.
“I didn’t know how to handle it. I would go away from him and say I have to go to the restroom. It was the escape route.”
Trump was often the center of Maxwell’s attention, and women who entered Trump’s orbit sometimes ended up being associated with both Trump and Epstein, spending part of their time living in a Trump Tower condo and part in Florida, at Mar-a-Lago or one of Epstein’s homes.
Among them was Russian model and beauty-pageant contestant Anna Malova, whose journey from the world of beauty pageants and modeling to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago and Epstein’s island retreat is highly suggestive in terms of how Epstein and his associates began manipulating young women.
In the early ’90s, before coming to the United States, Malova had placed well in a number of beauty pageants—coming in second in Miss Russia 1993 and winning the 1994 Miss Baltic Sea title later that year. In 1995 she left Moscow, spent six weeks learning English in St. Petersburg (Florida, not Russia), and was profiled in The Tampa Tribune as “reigning Miss Russia.”
And before long, she met Donald Trump. Notwithstanding the fact that Trump was still married to his second wife, Marla Maples, Anna moved into a 30th-floor condo in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
There, according to an item in the New York Post, her lavish accommodations were taken care of “courtesy of an unidentified sugar daddy.” Not long afterward, in October 1996, Trump bought three beauty pageants from ITT Corp.: Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA.
A little more than a year later, in 1998, Malova competed in the Miss Universe pageant representing Russia. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Malova “faltered badly” when she was asked to compare Russia’s television and culture with Ghana’s. Malova was stumped.
“She pulled a Chernobyl,” one observer told the outlet. “She’s history.”
Malova made the finals anyway, but, as New York magazine noticed, there was an anomaly in the very fact she had even entered the pageant.
“Oddly, Anna Malova was allowed to compete in this year’s Miss Universe pageant  even though she was Miss Russia in 1995,” the magazine reported.
“According to beauty-world sources, it’s not a coincidence that the stunning Slav, who wound up a finalist in last month’s event, is a friend of Donald Trump, co-owner of the event. Did the Donald pull a few strings on an old friend’s behalf? … While the Miss Universe camp insists Malova won the Russian event honestly, Malova’s agent says, ‘I don’t think she was Miss Russia this year. She was Miss Russia several years ago.’”
When the magazine asked for documentation that Malova had won the title a second time, the Miss Universe pageant headquarters declined to furnish it. Trump could not be reached for comment, but a spokesperson told New York, “I haven’t heard about Trump giving any preferential treatment to Malova.”
In the meantime, however, she spent time with both Trump and Epstein. Flight logs released by a federal judge in New York in 2019 showed that in February 1999, Malova, then 27, flew on board Epstein’s Gulfstream, the so-called Lolita Express, with Maxwell and Prince Andrew, from Epstein’s Little St. James (a.k.a. “Pedophile Island”) back to Florida.
Over the next two decades, Malova cut an erratic figure. She was arrested in 2010 on charges of criminal possession of narcotics, forgery, and criminal impersonation of a physician. She also appeared in gossip columns as the love interest of men ranging from comedian Garry Shandling to hedge fund billionaire George Soros, more than 40 years her senior.
Malova wasn’t the only woman who spent time with both Trump and Epstein. In 1997, Trump, who had just separated from Maples, was photographed with Maxwell at Ford Models’ 50th-anniversary party, where he ogled models throughout the evening.
At another event that year, according to the Sunday Mail, Trump, then 50, seemed to fall for a friend of Maxwell’s, 20-year-old London model Anouska De Georgiou, and flew her and Maxwell to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, after which he installed De Georgiou in “one of Donald’s many apartments” in New York.
But before long, De Georgiou told NBC News, she was being flown to Epstein’s homes all over the world. More than 20 years later, in 2019, De Georgiou’s court testimony was cited in British tabloid The Sun, which alleged that she had been abused by Epstein when she was “young and idealistic.”
“Jeffrey Epstein manipulated me, corrupted me, and sexually assaulted me,” she said, adding that the abuse was “devaluing beyond measure” and “lasted several years.”
As Epstein’s operation continued into the 2000s, he began importing girls from the former Soviet Union. After the 1998 Miss Universe pageant, Anna Malova signed up with Karin Models, which had been founded by Epstein friend Jean-Luc Brunel.
Known as “le fantôme” (the ghost), Brunel, who also owned MC2 Modeling Agency, was the subject of a 1988 piece that aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes in which several young models accused him of groping them sexually, drugging their drinks, and rape.
“I really despise Jean-Luc. … This is a guy who should be behind bars,” John Casablancas, the late modeling agent, told journalist Michael Gross, whose book Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women alleges that Brunel repeatedly drugged and raped models. According to Casablancas, Brunel and his pals “were very well known in Paris for roaming the clubs. They would invite girls and put drugs in their drinks.”
And Casablancas, who married a 17-year-old when he was 50, would have known, having used his stature in the modeling business to indulge in similar activities with young girls at a Look of the Year modeling competition at the New York Plaza Hotel, with his friend Donald Trump, then the hotel’s owner.
Trump was closely involved with the contest, in which the average age was 15, and, according to The Guardian, several of the models said that they were required by their agency to have dinner with Trump and Casablancas.
Trump’s behavior at such events is unclear, but, according to The Guardian, “The stories we have heard suggest that Casablancas, and some of the men in his orbit, used the contest to engage in sexual relationships with vulnerable young models. Some of these allegations amount to sexual harassment, abuse, or exploitation of teenage girls; others are more accurately described as rape.”
In addition to whatever legitimate careers Brunel may have fostered, as a “model scout” he also allegedly hired “scouters” to identify, procure, and transport underage girls, many 15 years of age and under, hire them to give “massages,” and train them to give sexual pleasure.
Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre claimed she was forced to have sex with Brunel as well, and was forced to watch him engage in “sexual acts with dozens of underage girls.” (Brunel, who couldn't be reached for comment, has denied taking advantage of underage girls, and MC2 president Jeffrey Fuller has denied that Epstein had any ownership or involvement in the company.)
MC2 wasn’t the first company to do something like this, and when it came to determining how to structure such a company — what kind of contractual relationships MC2 would have with employees, and so forth — its management looked to someone who already had experience in the business. Though Brunel was its titular leader, Epstein was really funding the agency and took the initiative when it came to dealing with such issues.
According to a sworn deposition in 2010 by MC2 bookkeeper Maritza Vasquez, Epstein wanted MC2 to use the same system of incentives that drove “model scouts” and models at Trump Model Management, the modeling agency Trump had founded as T Models in 1999. (Trump Model Management discontinued operations in 2017.)
As the Epstein operation chugged along, Trump, who had married three models — Ivana, Marla, and Melania — was very much part of Epstein’s picture. According to court records, message pads confiscated from Epstein’s home showed that Trump called Epstein’s West Palm Beach mansion a number of times.
Asked under oath in a September 2016 deposition whether he ever socialized with Trump in the presence of girls under the age of 18, Epstein punted. Rather than answer the questions, he took the Fifth.
Trump Model Management allegedly indulged in many of the dubious practices that MC2 did, such as violating immigration laws and illegally employing young foreign girls. Three former Trump models, all noncitizens of the U.S., told Mother Jones in 2016 that Trump Model Management profited by using foreign models who came to the United States on tourist visas that did not allow them to work here.
And two of the former models said that Trump’s agency suggested they lie on customs forms about where they planned to live. All of which meant they were perpetually scared of getting caught and pretty much at the mercy of the agency.
All of which was ironic indeed, given Trump’s hard-line immigration policies as president and his assertions that undocumented immigrants are taking American jobs.
Trump became known for hosting parties in suites at the Plaza Hotel, which he owned at the time, where older rich men were introduced to young women and girls who assumed “they’d get somewhere” by joining the party, as one partygoer, a fashion photographer, told Michael Gross, writing in the Daily Beast. “Of course, it never happens.”
According to the photographer, the girls were as young as 15. “[They were] over their heads, they had no idea, and they ended up in situations,” the photographer added. “There were always dramas because the men threw money and drugs at them to keep them enticed. It’s based on power and dominating girls who can’t push back and can be discarded.”
Trump would “go from room to room,” said the photographer. “It was guys with younger girls, sex, a lot of sex, a lot of cocaine, top-shelf liquor.”
In February 2000, Trump staged a pro-am tennis tournament at Mar-a-Lago and appeared with Epstein, Maxwell, and his latest girlfriend, Melania Knauss, whom Epstein claimed to have introduced to Trump.
Epstein’s claim was reported in The New York Times, which noted that “while Mr. Trump has dismissed the relationship, Mr. Epstein, since the election, has played it up, claiming to people that he was the one who introduced Mr. Trump to his third wife, Melania Trump, though neither of the Trumps has ever mentioned Mr. Epstein playing a role in their meeting.”
But in 2004, after a friendship of roughly 17 years, Trump and Epstein had a serious falling-out when Epstein sought to buy a spectacular oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach called Maison de l’Amitié (“House of Friendship”) that was being sold out of a bankruptcy auction. The property, a nearly 62,000-square-foot neoclassical palace, had once been owned by Leslie Wexner, the billionaire retailer who was so close to Epstein.
Epstein had his heart set on the house, but he planned to make at least one major renovation project once he bought it: He wanted to relocate the swimming pool, and he brought Trump to the property to give him advice on how to do it.
But before the sale was finalized, Epstein was horrified to see that Trump, who was still underwater financially from his Atlantic City bankruptcies, outbid him with an offer of more than $41 million for the property. The purchase was financed by Deutsche Bank, which was already holding dubious loans for Trump.
Epstein was apoplectic and became even more enraged when Trump soon thereafter put the house up for sale for $125 million. Finally, Trump sold the house to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev for a reported $96 million in 2008 — never having lived there — and Epstein threatened to sue him.
The two men never spoke again.
From then on, whenever Epstein’s name was mentioned to Trump, the whole tenor of the conversation instantly changed. And that wasn’t the end of it.
In 2005, the Palm Beach Police Department began investigating Epstein’s relationship to the young women around him. According to someone who knew him, Epstein believed Trump got the police to investigate him in retaliation for threatening to sue.
Their friendship frayed beyond repair, Epstein became less discreet as the keeper of Trump’s secrets and was not averse to showing off potentially compromising photos of him and Trump. An associate of Epstein’s who asked not to be identified told me that Epstein showed him one photo of Trump with a topless young girl. In another, the source said, Trump is with two young girls who are said to be laughing as they point out what appears to be a wet spot in an unfortunate location on his pants. The description of the photo suggested that it was a semen stain — but the photos have never been released.
From American Kompromat: How the KGB Cultivated Donald Trump, and Related Tales of Sex, Greed, Power, and Treachery, by Craig Unger
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