KEY POINTS
  • The White House attempted to explain why President Trump sent his well-wishes this week to Ghislaine Maxwell, who is charged with facilitating child sex trafficking for the late Jeffrey Epstein.
  • "What the president was noting is that the last person who was charged in this case ended up dead in a jail cell," said press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, in a reference to Epstein. 
  • Rather than being too soft on Maxwell, McEnany claimed the president had actually been extra tough on Epstein.
  • Trump "banned Jeffrey Epstein from coming to Mar-a-Lago," she said.
Ghislaine Maxwell attends VIP Evening of Conversation for Women's Brain Health Initiative, Moderated by Tina Brown at Spring Studios on October 18, 2016 in New York City.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany attempted to explain on Thursday why President Donald Trump sent well-wishes this week to Ghislaine Maxwell, who is jailed on charges of helping to facilitate Jeffrey Epstein's sexual abuse of underage girls.

"What the president was noting is that the last person who was charged in this case ended up dead in a jail cell," McEnany said on Fox News, referring to Epstein. "And the president wants justice to be served for victims in this case, and he prefers that to play out in a courtroom."

Trump made the remarks Tuesday at a White House press conference after a reporter asked him about Maxwell, with whom he used to socialize. 

"I just wish her well, frankly," Trump replied, adding that he had "met her numerous times over the years."

Given the gravity of the crimes with which Maxwell is charged, Trump's sympathetic tone quickly drew scrutiny from his critics and at least one member of his own party. 

One group, Republican Voters Against Trump, released on Wednesday a 30-second ad slamming Trump for his comments. 

"You wish her well?" the ad, featuring photos of Trump and Epstein together, asks. "No sympathy for Maxwell's victims? No sympathy for young girls who were molested by powerful people?"

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ad.

McEnany, however, rejected the insinuation that the president should have taken a harder line against Maxwell.

On the contrary, said McEnany, Trump had been "ahead of" law enforcement and prosecutors when he banned Epstein from his private club in Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, in the early 2000s.

"This president is the president that banned Jeffrey Epstein from coming to Mar-a-Lago," said McEnany. "This president was always on top of this, ahead of this, banning this man from his property long before this case was even being played out in a court of law."

Trump and Epstein partied together in the 1980s and 1990s but reportedly had a falling out sometime between 2002 and 2005. There are conflicting reports as to what prompted Trump to end his friendship with the millionaire financier and ban him from Mar-a-Lago. 

Maxwell, 58, was the longtime girlfriend of Epstein, who was found dead in his jail cell last year while awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges. Jail officials said the death was suicide. 

Maxwell was arrested July 2 at a million-dollar home in rural New Hampshire. The whereabouts of  the daughter of the late British media baron Robert Maxwell had been a mystery since Epstein's death, prompting widespread speculation that she had permanently left the United States. 

Following her arrest, Maxwell was transferred to New York, where she pleaded not guilty to federal charges of enticement of minors, sex trafficking of children and perjury. 

At Maxwell's bail hearing in Manhattan federal court, Judge Alison Nathan denied bail, agreeing with prosecutors that Maxwell posed "a substantial risk of flight" because of her personal wealth and because she has triple citizenship in the United States, France and the United Kingdom.

Maxwell is being held in a Brooklyn federal jail awaiting her trial, which is scheduled to begin next summer.

-- CNBC's Dan Mangan contributed to this report.