Goldberg: Why does Alexander Acosta still have a job?

Goldberg: Why does Alexander Acosta still have a job?

December 5th, 2018 by Michelle Goldberg/New York Times News Service in Opinion Times Commentary

U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta discusses how the Dept. of Labor can help individuals be prepared for retirement during panel discussion Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind. (Austen Leake/Tribune-Star via AP)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

It is the perverse good fortune of Alexander Acosta, Donald Trump's secretary of labor, to be part of an administration so spectacularly corrupt that it's simply impossible to give all its scandals the attention they deserve.

Last Wednesday, The Miami Herald published a blockbuster multipart exposé about how the justice system failed the victims of Jeffrey Epstein, a rich, politically connected financier who appears to have abused underage girls on a near-industrial scale. The investigation, more than a year in the making, described Epstein as running a sort of child molestation pyramid scheme, in which girls would be recruited to give Epstein "massages" at his Palm Beach mansion, pressured into sex acts, then coerced into bringing him yet more girls. The Herald reported that Epstein was also suspected of trafficking girls from overseas.

In this July 30, 2008, file photo, Jeffrey Epstein appears in custody in West Palm Beach, Fla. A last-minute settlement has been reached in a long-running lawsuit involving a Epstein, a wealthy, well-connected financier accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls. The deal came Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, just before jury selection was to begin. (Uma Sanghvi/Palm Beach Post via AP)

In this July 30, 2008, file photo, Jeffrey...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

What's shocking is not just the lurid details and human devastation of his alleged crimes, but the way he was able to use his money to escape serious consequences, thanks in part to Acosta, then Miami's top federal prosecutor. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Acosta took extraordinary measures to let Epstein — and, crucially, other unnamed people — off the hook.

The labor secretary, whose purview includes combating human trafficking, has done nothing to rebut The Herald's reporting. It should end his career.

As Herald journalist Julie K. Brown reported, in 2007, Epstein was facing a federal indictment that could have put him away for the rest of his life. In a deal with one of Epstein's attorneys, however, Acosta, a rising star in Republican circles, short-circuited the federal investigation, letting Epstein plead guilty to two felony prostitution charges in state court. "Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein's sex crimes," wrote Brown. It was, she wrote, "one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history."

Despite Florida's strict sex offender laws, Epstein was given work-release to spend up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, in his Palm Beach office. Housed in a private wing of Palm Beach County jail, he hired his own security guards. During a subsequent year of probation, he was nominally under house arrest, but permitted to take his private jet on trips to Manhattan and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Prosecutors seem to have deliberately kept the details of the settlement from Epstein's victims. Two of them are suing to overturn Epstein's plea.

Acosta's motives for going easy on Epstein are hard to discern. Before his stint in Miami, he headed the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in George W. Bush's White House, where he was known for his concern about sex trafficking. Yet with Epstein, Brown wrote, documents show that "Acosta not only buckled under pressure from Epstein's lawyers, but he and other prosecutors worked with them to contain the case." Why?

We don't know, but one of Epstein's victims, Virginia Roberts, told The Herald that Epstein didn't just abuse her himself, he also "lent" her out to "politicians and academics and royalty."

Had the federal case gone forward, it could have shed an embarrassing spotlight on Epstein's many famous associates, including Bill Clinton, a frequent passenger on Epstein's private plane, nicknamed the "Lolita Express."

Come January, Democrats will finally be able to investigate the Trump administration, and given all its misdeeds, they'll have to be selective about which they pursue. But if Acosta is still part of the administration next month, there should be hearings into his handling of the Epstein case. Epstein's ability to evade justice is of a piece with the elite impunity that Trump pretended to challenge, but actually embodies. Congress can send a message: Time's up.

The New York Times

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315