Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta gave testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing yesterday and Democrats used the opportunity to grill Acosta over his role in making a sweetheart deal for billionaire Jeffrey Epstein back when Acosta was the U.S. Attorney for southern Florida. That deal meant that Epstein, who had paid dozens of teenage girls money for sexual massages at his Palm Beach mansion, pleaded guilty to just two counts of prostitution and served just over a year of an 18-month sentence. He served that time in a low-security jail which allowed him to leave and go to his office up to half the day to work.
Because Acosta now works in the Trump administration there is an obvious partisan element to the sudden interest in nailing him over this old story. But as I’ve said before, I don’t care. The way this deal was handled (by almost everyone involved) made a mockery of justice. So in this case, I’m rooting for anyone that tears into Acosta over his agreement with Epstein. Yesterday, it was Democratic Rep. Katherine Clark doing most of the work. From the Washington Post:
“You chose wealthy and well-connected people, child rapists, over the victims in this case,” said Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), who noted that “the hideous truth has come out” about Acosta’s role in the case…
“This is horrifying and sick stuff,” Clark said of Epstein’s alleged behavior. “Mr. Epstein raped and assaulted these girls. He recruited them out of shopping malls. He had employees that helped with this. And then he invited his friends to do the same. . . . Epstein and his friends destroyed these girls’ lives.”
She took issue with Acosta agreeing to solicitation charges, which effectively cast the victims as prostitutes. “I’m sure you know there is no such thing as child prostitution with underaged girls,” Clark said.
She also pressed Acosta on his decision not to tell victims the government had struck a deal not to prosecute Epstein.
“The judge found you broke the law, Secretary Acosta, when you chose not to tell the victims about this deal, and that you gave them the impression that this investigation was ongoing. . . . Do you regret making this deal in secret?” Clark asked.
Acosta did not directly reply, saying only that he takes sex trafficking seriously and that the Justice Department has defended the plea deal.
Again, how was Epstein able to plead to solicitation charges involving girls who were as young as 13-years-old? There is no place in the law for 13-year-old prostitutes and yet Acosta somehow agreed to treat these girls as prostitutes for the purpose of this deal. The Washington Post reported last month that Epstein seems to have even been given a break with regard to which victims were involved in his guilty pleas:
A federal investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein had flagged scores of potential underage victims, including the 14-year-old girl who first alerted police. But when he pleaded guilty in state court in 2008, the only minor Epstein was convicted of soliciting was 16 years old at the time the offenses began, according to information obtained by The Washington Post…
The decision to charge Epstein with a crime involving an older teen — part of a plea deal that has already been criticized as overly lenient — has eased his obligations to register as a sex offender. In New Mexico, for instance, where Epstein has a 7,600-acre property called Zorro Ranch, he is not required to register because his victim was not under 16, state officials said.
In February we learned the DOJ is investigating the deal Acosta reached and later that month a judge ruled Acosta violated the law by agreeing not to notify the victims in the case prior to agreeing to the deal with Epstein. So the bottom line here is that Acosta’s suggestion during the hearing that this was the best possible deal under the circumstances does not hold up to any scrutiny. Here’s Rep. Clark tearing into him yesterday.