Up to 2004, the friendship between Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein appeared, in public, to be quite sound, as far as Trump acquaintances go. (The loyalty-obsessed president has said that his only “real friends” are family members.) Beginning in the late ’80s, Epstein and Trump hit it off, as shown in the recently unearthed footage of the two of them ogling NFL cheerleaders together at Mar-a-Lago in 1992. They were photographed together in 1992, 1997, and in 2000, with Trump’s then-girlfriend Melania Knauss. According to Epstein’s brother, Trump also hitched a ride from Florida to New York on Epstein’s private plane sometime around the new millennium. Then there’s that 2002 quote Trump gave to New York: “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. 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.”
But according to a new report from the Washington Post, in 2004, the pair let a mansion called the House of Friendship tear them apart. Bidding on Maison de l’Amitie in Palm Beach, both Trump and Epstein really wanted to win the oceanfront property being sold out of bankruptcy. The trustee in the case, Joseph Luzinski, told the Post of the process: “It was something like, Donald saying, ‘You don’t want to do a deal with him, he doesn’t have the money,’ while Epstein was saying: ‘Donald is all talk. He doesn’t have the money.’ They both really wanted it.” Around that time, Trump banned the financier from Mar-a-Lago without giving an explanation.
In November 2004, The Apprentice host said he was fixated on winning “the finest piece of land in Florida and probably the U.S.,” refering to the six-acre parcel that the bank seized from Abe Gosman, a businessman who made his money building nursing homes. It was, by Trump’s estimation, the “second greatest house in America,’” conveniently just a ten-minute drive from the number-one home, Mar-a-Lago. Gosman had purchased the property in 1988 for around $12 million from Leslie Wexner, Epstein’s benefactor; with a strong initial bid at-auction of $37.25 million, it appeared the financier was about to take it back. But bidding soon shot up to $38.6 million and “Trump had made up his mind to get it no matter the price,” a lawyer present at the auction told the Washington Post. Trump’s bid eventually rose to $41.35 million, and he won the house. That month also marked the last known contact between the two: Shortly after the auction, Trump left two voicemails for Epstein at his Palm Beach home.
Two weeks after the auction, Palm Beach police followed up on a tip that young girls were seen frequently leaving Epstein’s house. Four years after Trump won the bid, he sold it to Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million — a deal that was investigated by the special counsel as part of Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Trump-Russia connections. Alas, the House of Friendship is no more: In 2016, the estate was demolished and divided in thirds for developers to build up.