In late 2021 and early 2022, critics of former U.S. President Donald Trump, primarily left-leaning, enthusiastically shared a social media post which appeared to add some credibility to long-standing rumors about him.
On Dec. 29, a jury in New York convicted English socialite Ghislaine Maxwell of assisting her longtime companion, the disgraced billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, in procuring underage girls to be sexually abused, over a period of many years. Epstein died in prison in August 2019, while facing sex trafficking charges, in what the New York City medical examiner determined was a suicide.
Like other influential and well-connected politicians and businessmen, Trump knew and socialized with both Epstein and Maxwell, and he has long been the subject of so-far unsubstantiated rumors of sexual impropriety involving young women and even girls.
Against that background, @USAlight3, a Twitter account that regularly posts left-wing, anti-Trump content, wrote on Dec. 30:
“FOX NEWS: Trump vowed to pardon Ghislaine Maxwell if he wins in 2024.”
The claim was that Fox News reported that Trump had said he would pardon Maxwell if he were elected as president again in 2024. In reality, Fox News had reported no such thing.
Back in the summer of 2021, several outlets wrote about a snippet from Michael Wolff’s book “Landslide” which alleged, based on unnamed sources, that Trump had mentioned Maxwell in the context of conversations about his presidential pardon power, before he left office in January 2021. Notably, Trump did not actually pardon Maxwell, even though the charges against her were well known by that time. We are issuing a rating of “Mostly False.”
By logical necessity, any “vow” by Trump to pardon Maxwell if he won election in 2024 would have to have taken place after President Joe Biden’s election win in November 2020 (otherwise, Trump would have framed his intention in terms of a second term). We could find no such report on the website of Fox News during the period since Biden’s victory. Nor did we find any similar reports from any other reputable news source. So the “2024” claim, in particular, was baseless.
However, although unproven, the broader allegation that Trump has held an interest in pardoning Maxwell was at least based on some external source, namely Michael Wolff’s 2021 book “Landslide.” In it, Wolff describes the chaotic final days and weeks of Trump’s presidency, and in one section, writes about Trump’s approach to issuing pardons, as follows:
Bored by the process and the details, Trump nevertheless, in the last week, would trawl for candidates, with sudden spurts of determination not to leave this power unused. “Who do you think should be pardoned? Give me one person—who’s your top pick?” became a frequent conversational interruption.
One “Oh, shit” moment involved his sudden interest in Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein now facing years in prison over allegations of her role in the Epstein sex-abuse scandal. Trump had tried hard to downplay his own long relationship with Epstein “Has she said anything about me?” He openly wondered. “Is she going to talk? Will she roll on anybody?” But pardon talk almost immediately segued to the question of if he should pardon himself: “They say I can. Unlimited pardon power.”
Wolff’s putative sources are unnamed, so we cannot even begin to test the accuracy of that description. However, one thing we do know for certain is that Trump did not actually pardon Maxwell of anything while he was president, despite having the power and opportunity to do so.
Colson, Thomas. “Trump Took a ‘sudden Interest’ in Ghislaine Maxwell When Discussing Who to Pardon, According to a New Book.” Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-ghislaine-maxwell-case-pardons-michael-wolff-book-2021-7. Accessed 4 Jan. 2022.Commutations Granted by President Donald J. Trump (2017 – 2021). 20 Dec. 2017, https://www.justice.gov/pardon/commutations-granted-president-donald-j-trump-2017-2021.“Did Bill Barr’s Father ‘Mentor’ Jeffrey Epstein and Write a ‘Bizarre’ Novel?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/bill-barr-jeffrey-epstein-book/. Accessed 4 Jan. 2022.Ghislaine Maxwell Charged In Manhattan Federal Court For Conspiring With Jeffrey Epstein To Sexually Abuse Minors. 2 July 2020, https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/ghislaine-maxwell-charged-manhattan-federal-court-conspiring-jeffrey-epstein-sexually.“Ghislaine Maxwell Convicted in Jeffrey Epstein Sex Abuse Case: Live Updates.” AP NEWS, 29 Dec. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/ghislaine-maxwell-convicted-jeffrey-epstein-trial-verdict-63a71a2825eab41184a79e37bb967e90.Nast, Condé. “‘He’s a Lot of Fun to Be With’: Inside Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump’s Epic Bromance.” Vanity Fair, 21 Jan. 2021, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/01/jeffrey-epstein-and-donald-trump-epic-bromance.Pardons Granted by President Donald J. Trump (2017-2021). 28 Aug. 2017, https://www.justice.gov/pardon/pardons-granted-president-donald-j-trump-2017-2021.Prokop, Andrew. “Jeffrey Epstein’s Connections to Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, Explained.” Vox, 9 July 2019, https://www.vox.com/2019/7/9/20686347/jeffrey-epstein-trump-bill-clinton.“Trump Considered Pardoning Ghislaine Maxwell: Report.” The Independent, 7 July 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-ghislaine-maxwell-pardon-epstein-b1879428.html.