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Trump amplifies conspiracy theories from perch of presidency

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) — With a pair of weekend retweets, President Donald Trump amplified an unfounded conspiracy theory.

It was hardly the first time. His political career began the same way.

Trump has a long history of spreading falsehoods drawn from the conservative fringe. His unlikely rise to the White House was fueled in part by spreading the lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., and he has trafficked in numerous others to malign his opponents and advance his own views.

Now he has used the power of the presidency to promote a baseless claim about the death of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, breaking another norm of the office and further sowing public confusion over the apparent suicide of one of the most high-profile inmates in the federal system. Epstein, who faced up to 45 years in prison on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges, was found dead in his cell in a Manhattan jail early Saturday.

Epstein had ties to prominent people around the globe, including Trump, who partied with him in the 2000s, and former President Bill Clinton. Within hours of Epstein’s apparent suicide, Trump retweeted an accusation that tied both Bill and Hillary Clinton to the death, one of many conspiracies circulating on social media. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Trump defended the retweet on Tuesday, calling the original poster “a very respected conservative.” He said he had “no idea” whether the Clintons were involved in the death, but continued to fan the theory, saying that the former president spent far more time on Epstein’s private plane, and perhaps his private island, than known.

The Clintons have denied any wrongdoing. In a statement last month, Clinton spokesman Angel Urena said the former president took four trips –one to Asia, one to Europe and two to Africa — on Epstein’s airplane in 2002 and 2003. Staff and Secret Service detail traveled with Clinton on “every leg of every trip,” Urena said.

Urena also said Clinton had never traveled to Epstein’s private island.

Trump has made a similar accusation before: that the Clintons had a hand in a high-profile suicide. He previously tweeted about the 1993 death of White House aide Vince Foster, calling it “very fishy.”