Trump should fire Labor Secretary Acosta for cowardice in child sex abuse case

Trump should fire Labor Secretary Acosta for cowardice in child sex abuse case
© Stefani Reynolds

Cowardice in the face of the enemy is an unforgivable offense for a soldier. That’s equally true for federal prosecutors.

A ruling last week by a Florida federal judge underscored how Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaFake passport, cash and diamonds found in Epstein's home, prosecutors say Ross in Trump's crosshairs after census loss: report Chris Christie: Trump administration departures go back to 'how poorly the transition was run' MORE, when he was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2007, fled the criminal battlefield rather than prosecute Jeffrey Epstein, an alleged wealthy Palm Beach child molester and sex trafficker. The case raises the question anew, why did President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE appoint Acosta to be secretary of Labor with responsibility for combatting sex trafficking and protecting its victims?

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The ruling dealt with the seemingly narrow issue of whether Acosta’s office had complied with the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by informing Epstein’s victims that it had reached an agreement with Epstein not to bring federal charges, called a non-prosecution agreement or NPA.  

Instead, as the federal judge found, Acosta’s office decided to “conceal the existence of the NPA and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility.” The victims, whose interests Acosta was supposed to protect, had no opportunity to exercise their right to object to the NPA before it became final because Acosta’s office had deceived them.  

Every aspect of this case is sordid. As often as three times a day, Epstein reportedly sexually abused underage girls; some he allegedly fed into sex parties. One of his victims, who was 14 and had braces on her teeth when she met Epstein and later helped recruit other girls, recalled him saying that “he wanted them as a young as I could find them.” 

The FBI had gathered substantial evidence of Epstein’s sex crimes but Acosta seemed to wilt in the face of Epstein’s high powered lawyers. Essentially, Acosta surrendered his law enforcement authority to a sex criminal and his defense counsel. 

In the NPA, Acosta agreed to bring no federal charges against Epstein, confer similar immunity on Epstein’s co-conspirators (which may have included Epstein’s female recruiters and his wealthy clientele), and keep the NPA out of the public record. At a private breakfast meeting, Acosta personally agreed to the demands of Epstein’s counsel not to contact the witnesses or civil claimants against Epstein, the apparent genesis of the concealment of the NPA from the victims.     

Under the NPA, Epstein pled only to state prostitution charges. Instead of spending much or all of the rest of his life in a federal prison, Epstein served 13 months in the private wing of the Palm Beach County jail, which he left six days a week to work in a comfortable office. 

Over the years Acosta has claimed that he engaged in a legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion or — and I am not making this up — that he did not know that Epstein was such a monster. But his most revealing explanation was the self-pitying assertion that Epstein’s defense team had been “more aggressive than any which I, or the prosecutors in my office, had previously encountered.”

That’s not a justification, it’s a confession to dereliction of official duty. Prosecuting defendants whose attorneys are sprinkled with glitter is in every federal prosecutor’s job description.

This was a case to be won. Acosta’s office had witnesses with consistent stories, phone call records, copies of phone messages from his young victims found in Epstein’s trash, and flight logs, which located his private plane in Palm Beach on the days the girls were scheduled to give him “massages.”  

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If Acosta had wanted more evidence before going to trial, it was there. Last November, the Miami Herald’s superb investigative reporting identified 80 women who said they had been sexually abused by Epstein. If a newspaper without subpoena power can come up with that many victims and potential witnesses years later, you can safely bet that in 2007 a motivated federal prosecutor could have also.

Last month, Trump announced his administration’s commitment to “leveraging every resource we have” to “support the victims” of sex trafficking and to “hold the traffickers accountable for their heinous crimes.” As long as he allows Acosta to remain in office, it’s hard to take those statements seriously.    

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.