President Trump on Tuesday defended his promotion of a baseless conspiracy theory about the death of Jeffrey Epstein over the weekend, saying he had retweeted a “very highly respected conservative pundit” who is a “big Trump fan.”
On Saturday, Trump retweeted a message from conservative actor and comedian Terrence K. Williams that suggested former president Bill Clinton might have been involved in the death of Epstein, the politically connected financier who had been facing multiple charges of sex trafficking involving underage girls.
“He’s a very highly respected conservative pundit,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey, referring to Williams. “He’s a big Trump fan. That was a retweet, that wasn’t from me. That was from him, but he’s a man with half a million followers, a lot of followers. And he’s respected.”
“So I think I was fine,” added Trump, who has 63 million followers on Twitter.
Trump also noted that Attorney General William P. Barr had ordered an investigation into the circumstances around Epstein’s death in a federal corrections facility in Manhattan, which the Justice Department initially called an “apparent suicide.”
“Basically what we’re saying is we want an investigation,” Trump said. “I want a full investigation, and that’s what I absolutely am demanding.”
In his tweet on Saturday, Williams wrote that “#JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead.”
Epstein and Clinton had socialized together in the past, as had Epstein and Trump.
Angel Ureña, a Clinton spokesman, responded on Twitter on Saturday to Trump’s retweet, writing: “Ridiculous, and of course not true — and Donald Trump knows it. Has he triggered the 25th Amendment yet?”
The 25th Amendment spells out a process for the president’s Cabinet to remove him from office.
Asked by a reporter Tuesday if he thought Clinton was involved with Epstein’s death, Trump said, “I have no idea.”
Trump noted that Clinton had taken international trips on Epstein’s plane in the early years of his post-presidency. One of those was a trip to several African countries with actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker.
“The question you have to ask is, ‘Did Bill Clinton go to the island?’ ” Trump told reporters, referring to Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean that was raided by the FBI on Monday. “If you find that out, you’re going to know a lot.”
Williams has provoked other controversies in the past, including last year, when he was cut off during a segment of “Watters World” on the Fox News Channel.
That came during an exchange about Sarah Jeong, a new New York Times editorial board member, whose past tweets had led some to accuse her of being racist against white people.
“I don’t know if this lady is Chinese, Japanese or crazy-nese,” Williams said at one point.
He later added: “There is something wrong with them fortune cookies that Ling Ling’s eating.”
Williams’s acting credits include a role in the forthcoming “The Pizza Joint.” IMDB.com describes the plot as involving a pizza restaurant where cannabis is infused directly in the pizza sauce.
During an interview late last month on C-SPAN, Trump was asked whether he regretted sending out any of his roughly 43,000 tweets.
“Not much,” Trump said, before acknowledging that he has run into problems with some retweets.
“You know, you retweet something that sounds good, but it turned out to be from a player that’s not the best player in the world,” Trump said. “That sort of causes a problem, but overall, I would say no, not at all. I think it’s a modern-day form of communication.”
On Monday, Rudolph W. Giuliani, a personal lawyer for Trump, took to Twitter to advocate for “withholding judgement” on conspiracy theories concerning Epstein’s death.
“The conspiracy theories concerning the Epstein death are multiplying,” Giuliani wrote. “The facts seem unbelievable. But it is best to wait for some key facts like the findings of the autopsy. Withholding judgement is the wisest course to follow.”
Giuliani, who did not mention Trump in his tweet, added that the Department of Justice is “very motivated to get to the bottom of it.”
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.