At first glance, the Epstein saga looks like another example of how justice is not, in fact, blind — of how it tilts toward the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable. Mr. Epstein, who has claimed to have made his fortune managing other rich people’s money, was not just wealthy; he was politically and socially wired, hobnobbing with such boldfaced names as Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

He donated tens of millions of dollars to institutions like Harvard University, which he never attended but where he financed construction of a campus building and formed strong connections to faculty members and administrators. He is also known for having amassed a quirky “collection” of scientists, in whom he liberally invested over the years.

Upon closer examination, this case offers an even more warped picture of justice. Mr. Epstein retained a cadre of high-price, high-profile lawyers who went after prosecutors with everything they had — at least according to Mr. Acosta. In 2011, facing criticism over the plea agreement, Mr. Acosta complained about having endured “a yearlong assault” by Mr. Epstein’s legal sharks. During his 2017 confirmation hearings to become labor secretary, Mr. Acosta claimed to have forged the best deal possible under the circumstances.