Labor Sec. Alex Acosta gave a 53-minute speech defending his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case. It’s perhaps too early to tell but Acosta’s defense doesn’t seem to add much to the current debate over how the case was handled. From the Associated Press:

“We believe that we proceeded appropriately,” Acosta told reporters at a news conference at Labor Department headquarters, where he retraced steps federal prosecutors took in the case a decade ago when he was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Acosta said state authorities had planned to go after Epstein with charges that would have resulted in no jail time until his office intervened and pressed for tougher consequences.

“We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” he said. “That was the focus.” He added: “Facts are important and facts are being overlooked.”

Remember, the jail time Epstein got in this deal was 18 months in a cushy minimum-security jail that allowed him to leave for work for up to 12-hours a day. What Acosta’s deal secured wasn’t exactly hard time.

Acosta has long made the case that it was better to use the threat of a federal indictment to force Epstein into a state guilty plea, with restitution to victims and registration as a sex offender, than it would have been to “roll the dice” and take Epstein to trial. But the result, to critics, was egregiously lenient.

Acosta’s office had gotten to the point of drafting an indictment that could have sent Epstein to federal prison for life. But it was never filed, leading to Epstein’s guilty plea to two state prostitution-related charges. Epstein served 13 months in a work-release program. He was also required to make payments to victims and register as a sex offender.

This argument only makes sense if it really was a roll of the dice that Epstein would be convicted. But given the number of underage victims involved, this story had national outrage written all over it even back then. Acosta made a deal on their behalf and, in violation of the law, didn’t even tell them about it.

Framing the requirement that Epstein make payments to victims as if it were a big win for justice is silly. Under the circumstances, Epstein was more than willing to trade his money for his freedom. Acosta let Epstein plead guilty to a couple of prostitution charges as if the Middle School and High School age girls he was grooming were hookers. All Epstein had to do was pay a small amount of money to anyone who came forward. By doing so he not only got himself off the hook but all of his co-conspirators, i.e. the people who might have flipped on him if real pressure had ever been applied.

The question of why Acosta went along with this sweetheart deal is prompting a lot of speculation. It’ll be interesting to see if anything comes from that. But it’s also possible that Acosta simply didn’t want to tangle with a billionaire who had unlimited resources and a dream team of top attorneys at his disposal. Whatever the reason, I don’t see how 13 months of semi-confinement is the best outcome in a case where the facts are this shocking. But at the moment all of this has become just another political battle between Trump and Democrats.

Trump encouraged Acosta to hold the news conference, according to a person familiar with the matter, who added that the president “wants to get the truth out.”

Acosta’s appearance comes the same day that House Oversight Democrats asked Acosta to appear before the committee on July 23. In a letter, Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told Acosta his testimony is “even more critical” given the new indictment in New York. Hours before, a new accuser had come forward alleging Epstein raped her in his Manhattan apartment in 2002.

I don’t find Acosta’s defense convincing, but I don’t think the Democrats’ sudden outrage is credible either. I followed this case back when Bill Clinton was the only president closely associated with Epstein. These same Democrats were in office then too but wanted nothing to do with the case. Here’s Acosta’s full speech:

Update: Popehat has some excellent questions about the non-prosecution agreement.