A journalist brought Epstein to justice and Acosta's resignation — so stop demonizing the press

A journalist brought Epstein to justice and Acosta's resignation — so stop demonizing the press
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE has called the press “the enemy” of the American people, accused the New York Times of “treason” and praised a congressman from Montana for physically assaulting a journalist. One-quarter of Americans now agree that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”

Julie K. Brown, an investigative journalist for the Miami Herald, just reminded us why Trump’s attempts to intimidate and delegitimize the press are so dangerous. Brown broke the behind-the-scenes story of the disgraceful plea deal that Alexander AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by National Association of Manufacturers — Whistleblower complaint roils Washington On The Money: Senate confirms Scalia as Labor chief | Bill with B in wall funding advanced over Democrats' objections | Lawyers reach deal to delay enforcement of NY tax return subpoena Sanders calls Eugene Scalia's Labor Dept. confirmation 'obscene' MORE, then the U.S. attorney in Miami, secretly negotiated with attorneys for sex-ring trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Brown started a firestorm that re-opened the Epstein caseand, today, forced Acosta to resign as secretary of Labor. 

Journalists were once defined by the chain-smoking, wisecracking, crime-beat reporters in the play “The Front Page,” and later by the clean-cut, dedicated types played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the movie “All The President’s Men” about Watergate. (Okay, in the movie Carl BernsteinCarl BernsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems poised to air alleged Trump abuses on TV Worried about fake political news? Just don't repost Carl Bernstein: 'Increasingly unstable' Trump 'a danger to national security' MORE smoked a lot, too).

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Now the image of an investigative journalist is a woman in her late 50s who was raised by a single parent, left home at age 16 to earn enough money to attend college, and scrapped her way up the journalistic ladder at the Miami Herald. 

When the Herald put Brown on the Epstein case in 2017, she displayed the dogged tenacity needed to bring down a powerful man with powerful friends and attorneys. She tracked down and interviewed the women who had been abused by Epstein, many then underage. She gained their confidence and got them to talk. Brown identified some 80 victims.

Brown had no subpoena power, commanded no FBI agents and had no ability to offer leniency in return for testimony. Yet, she did the job that Acosta and his prosecutorial team — who had all those tools at their disposal  — should have done, but didn’t. Her articles reported that, as often as three times a day, Epstein sexually abused underage girls and even paid some of his victims — one was 14 and had braces at the time — to recruit other victims. 

Brown turned over a giant rock with some very slimy things underneath, and not just Epstein.

Acosta, as U.S. attorney, had been a prosecutorial coward who should never have been appointed secretary of Labor. In 2007 Acosta fled the battlefield by giving Epstein an uber-sweetheart deal: no federal charges, a plea only to state prostitution solicitation charges (yes, for that purpose, Epstein’s victims were characterized as prostitutes), and jail time of only 13 months, during which Epstein could work six days a week in a comfortable office. A federal judge found that Acosta’s office had misled Epstein’s victims “to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility” so they couldn’t timely object to the sweetheart deal.

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But this week the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan demonstrated that Brown’s reporting had been dead-on. The office charged Epstein with federal sex-trafficking charges, alleging that he had “abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations” and used “victim-recruiters” to recruit other girls.

At his Monday press conference to announce the charges, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman noted that his office had been “assisted by some excellent investigative journalism,” which of course meant Brown.

Next time Trump demonizes the press — and there will be a next time — take a moment to reflect on Julie Brown and what this country would be like if we didn’t have a free, fair and vibrant press. 

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.