The two were photographed together there in the 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. Trump always in a tie, Mr. Epstein always without. And in Manhattan, they attended many of the same dinner parties, like the one that Mr. Epstein hosted for Prince Andrew, where the guest list also included Ron Perelman and Mort Zuckerman, among others.
But longtime Trump associates played down their closeness, saying that was simply how Mr. Trump treated any guest at his club — checking on their steaks, bragging about his meatloaf, scanning the room for a better table so guests felt like they were getting special treatment.
Since Mr. Trump’s decision to enter the presidential race in 2015, his aides and allies have been eager to minimize any connection to Mr. Epstein, knowing that Mr. Epstein’s relationship with Mr. Clinton would be investigated at a time Hillary Clinton was likely to be his opponent.
Roger J. Stone Jr., the former Trump adviser, wrote in his book “The Clintons’ War on Women,” which was published during the campaign, that Mr. Trump “turned down many invitations to Epstein’s hedonistic private island and his Palm Beach home.” Once when Mr. Trump visited Mr. Epstein at his Palm Beach home, Mr. Stone wrote, he later seemed to joke about the scene of underage girls he witnessed there.
“The swimming pool was filled with beautiful young girls,” Mr. Trump later told a Mar-a-Lago member, according to Mr. Stone. “‘How nice,’ I thought, ‘he let the neighborhood kids use his pool.’”
Sam Nunberg, a former campaign aide to Mr. Trump, said he raised concerns about the candidate’s involvement with Mr. Epstein before Mr. Trump officially began his presidential campaign. But Mr. Trump assured Mr. Nunberg that he had barred Mr. Epstein from entering his clubs after Mr. Epstein had tried to recruit a woman who worked at Mar-a-Lago.
“Trump said, ‘I kicked him out of the clubs when this stuff became public, and I made sure NBC knew,’” Mr. Nunberg recalled.