Last week, the Miami Herald published a searing investigative report by reporter Julie Brown on the fact that multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused dozens of girls at his home in Palm Beach and was permitted to cut a ridiculously lenient deal with local, state, and federal prosecutors. He was allowed to plead to two counts of prostitution, leading to a measly 13-month sentence, where he was even treated to daily work release. He did have to register as a sex offender, but with dozens of girls there and across the United States (and the globe) as his victims, the deal was beyond the pale. This was yet another instance when men in power kept each other’s secrets and covered them up as though the victims were basically collateral to the “real” issues, like men’s reputations and power. We have seen this again and again, whether it was President Graham Spanier of Penn State failing to stop Sandusky or the bishops trading around pedophile priests as though they are chess pieces rather than dangerous weapons against children. There is not a lot of daylight between these examples. Indeed, the Catholic Church’s problems in this arena are a blueprint for understanding the whole map, as I discussed here.
Why did Epstein get this deal? One has to wonder whether it didn’t have something to do with the fact that his friends and cohorts were powerful, including former President Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump and his lawyers—a veritable who’s who list like Ken Starr (whose failures in this arena I discussed here) and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, among others. Both Trump and Dershowitz have been implicated in the abuse side of Epstein’s lifestyle, but both deny it.
There is no question that the system for protecting children is broken when a federal prosecutor chooses a cozy plea deal like Epstein’s. A prosecutor is supposed to represent the public interest in safety and be a “crimestopper.” The Epstein case was a textbook on serial pedophiliac behavior with children not only abused but also paid to bring in other children. The federal prosecutor who let Epstein get away with this level of sexual assault of girls was Alexander Acosta, who at the time was the South Florida United States Attorney and is now the Secretary of Labor in the Trump administration. Not only did Acosta let him get away with it, this prosecutor also cut the victims out of the process. They didn’t even know there was going to be a plea until they read about it. Far from being permitted to testify at his sentencing as did over 100 victims of Dr. Larry Nassar, these victims were completely ignored. These girls, most of whom were poor and came from broken homes, were throwaway victims.
Now the man who oversaw Epstein’s sweetheart deal is, of all things, the Secretary of Labor. There are those who will say that this was just “prosecutorial discretion,” and that the vast majority of child sex abuse cases never yield criminal trials or deals anyway. Well, sadly, that is true, but the FBI apparently had the evidence to put him away for the rest of his life. Instead, Acosta let him waltz into a cushy 13-month jail sentence with a bonus work release feature. If Acosta were now, for example, the Secretary of Energy, I might not be so annoyed. But Acosta is the Secretary of Labor, the department that oversees child labor laws and trafficking.
For those who are appalled by Acosta holding this job, as you should be, it is also disturbing to note that the Senate that confirmed him knew about this history and still let him sail through. Is this a Republican problem? Maybe. He was nominated by a president who campaigned for alleged child abuser Roy Moore for United States Senate. That is the same president who famously said that he liked to grab women by their private parts. Yes, it was a Republican Senate that misguidedly confirmed Brett Kavanaugh despite compelling testimony that he had sexually assaulted a girl, as I discussed here.
But, optimist that I am, I do believe that it is possible that the Senate might take another look at the horrifying Acosta facts, and the public response, and saner minds might urge him to step down. It is rumored that he was on the short list for attorney general, but now is off that list. That is a very good development, but it’s not enough. Acosta should not be in any position where the welfare of children or trafficking victims is at stake. It’s time for him to resign or be forced out. I am agnostic which is the better route.