LONDON — President Donald Trump landed in London late Monday in the midst of a royal firestorm.The first British TV interview with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a woman who said she was trafficked by the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and directed to have sexual encounters with Prince Andrew, finished airing on TV just as Air Force One touched down outside the British capital.Andrew has said he has “no recollection” of meeting Roberts Giuffre and denies any sexual contact with her.Though there were few new revelations in the BBC Panorama broadcast, it poured further fuel on one of the largest royal scandals to occur during the course of Queen Elizabeth II’s 67-year reign. It also placed a spotlight firmly on the royal family just as they are set to host NATO leaders in town for the alliance’s 70th anniversary.When asked about the controversy at a press conference on Tuesday, Trump passed on the opportunity to weigh in.”I don’t know Prince Andrew. It’s a tough story, it’s a very tough story, I don’t know him,” he said.
The two were photographed together at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in 2000 with first lady Melania Trump, who was then Trump’s girlfriend. The prince and the president also met during Trump’s visit to the U.K. last June.On Tuesday afternoon, Trump and the first lady will have tea with the queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla.Then he will head to Buckingham Palace together with leaders from Germany, France and other NATO member countries. They will be greeted by the queen, who is now 93, and a host of other royals, including the queen’s other children, Prince Charles, Prince Edward and Princess Anne, as well as Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, whose husband Prince William is currently on a royal visit to Kuwait and Oman.The one name noticeably not on the list is the queen’s third child, Andrew, who stepped away from public royal duties last month because of the uproar surrounding his friendship with Epstein.Andrew has vehemently denied Roberts Giuffre’s allegations. Still, his extraordinary step back from official duties has not been enough to quell the furor, which has played out in the nation’s newspapers.
“Andrew’s new TV humiliation,” read the Daily Mail headline on Tuesday.The Sun ran with this banner: “Andrew: Five new female witnesses,” referring to the Monday report on BBC Panorama that five of Epstein’s accusers alleging the prince witnessed them massage Epstein. Their lawyers have prepared subpoenas which could be served if he returns to the U.S., according to the BBC.
Buckingham Palace said in response to BBC Panorama that “the Duke has already stated that he did not see, witness or suspect any behavior of the sort that subsequently led to Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest and conviction. He deplores the exploitation of any human being and would not condone, participate in, or encourage any such behavior.”In Andrew’s interview with the BBC last month, he said that he saw nothing suspicious. He also mentioned that he was patron of a charity campaign aimed at protecting children. As a result, he said: “I knew what the things were to look for but I never saw them.”In the statement issued when he announced he was stepping back from his royal duties, Andrew said that he is “willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”The controversy comes at the end of a difficult year for the royal family. In January, Prince Philip was involved in a car accident and soon after surrendered his driver’s license.Over the summer, Prince Harry, the queen’s grandson, was heavily criticized for his use of private jets despite supporting environmental causes. Then in October, Harry’s wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, sued a British tabloid newspaper for publishing a private letter she wrote to her father.She also spoke out in a documentary about the toll that the intense media scrutiny on her has taken.Trump is no stranger to royal controversy. Just prior to his last visit to the U.K., the president referred to Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex and a granddaughter-in-law of the queen, as “nasty” in an interview with a British newspaper — a comment he denied making despite the existence of a clear audio recording.
During that state visit, he also praised the “eternal friendship” of the U.S. and U.K. and tweeted that the “queen and the entire royal family have been fantastic.”The firestorm around Andrew is also not that far from Trump’s own door. Trump was found to have flown in January 1997 on one of Epstein’s planes at least once, and there is video of Epstein and Trump partying together at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida mansion, in 1992. Both events were before Epstein’s conviction. The president said that he hadn’t spoken to Epstein since his guilty plea, and that his relationship with him was no different than that of anyone else in their elite circle.”I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him,” Trump said in July. “I was not a fan.”