Acosta under fire over Epstein deal

Democrats are calling on Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign over a 2008 plea deal he struck as federal prosecutor with billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was arrested on new sex-trafficking charges in New York last week. As U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Acosta oversaw a deal that let Epstein avoid federal charges for allegedly sexually abusing dozens of young women and girls. Instead, Epstein pled guilty to two state prostitution charges and served 13 months in jail; he was allowed to work from home six days a week. The New York indictment says Epstein “exploited and abused dozens of minor girls,” as young as 14, at his Manhattan and Palm Beach, Fla., homes from 2002 to 2005. Acosta called Epstein’s actions “despicable” and said his deal had ensured Epstein did time. He said the evidence prosecutors now have—including a trove of lewd photos of girls found in a safe in Epstein’s Manhattan mansion—could “more fully bring him to justice.” Epstein has pleaded not guilty.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called Acosta’s agreement with Epstein “unconscionable.” Former President Bill Clinton said he knew nothing of Epstein’s “terrible crimes” despite flying on the billionaire’s private jet at least 26 times from 2001 to 2003. Clinton is among a cadre of celebrities, politicians, and bigwigs Epstein counted among his friends. In 2002, President Trump called Epstein “a terrific guy” who “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” Trump said this week that he hadn’t spoken to Epstein in 15 years, and was “not a fan of his.”

Acosta “has to go,” said the Miami Herald in an editorial. Despite clear evidence that Epstein kept a retinue of underage sex slaves, Acosta approved a slap-on-the-wrist deal for this serial predator. And for reasons that are still unclear, he kept that deal secret from the billionaire’s victims. You’re smearing an innocent man, said The Wall Street Journal. “By all publicly available evidence, Acosta acted honorably.” In fact, the deal that he struck was far tougher than the one sought by state and lower-level federal prosecutors.

A lot of Epstein’s wealthy and powerful friends must be sweating right now, said Timothy O’Brien in Bloomberg.com. As the reality of a lengthy prison sentence approaches, he might “end up trying to flip for prosecutors.” What might he tell them about the attendees at his famous parties, such as Trump, who was accused by an unidentified young woman in 2016 of raping her at Epstein’s mansion when she was 13 years old? Trump denied the claim, and the woman later dropped the suit.

Back in 2008, Epstein was shielded from justice by his “nearly incomprehensible money,” said Ken White in TheAtlantic.com. His star attorneys—including Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr— investigated the “personal peccadilloes” of prosecutors that could lead to their disqualification, Acosta said. The strategy worked and Epstein won “the deal of the millennium.” But that deal is now radioactive, and Epstein’s unlikely to get another one. “Great wealth insulates people from consequences, but not always, absolutely, or forever.”