U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta talks to reporters during a news conference in Miami, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008. Acosta announced eight people and eight...
Alan Diaz

The scandal that could force out another Trump cabinet secretary

Updated

Alex Acosta has been Donald Trump’s Secretary of Labor for 22 months. In light of yesterday’s developments, I’m hard pressed to imagine how he’ll remain at his post for a 23rd.

The Miami Herald, which has done amazing work on the Jeffrey Epstein story, reported yesterday:

Federal prosecutors, under former Miami U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, broke the law when they concealed a plea agreement from more than 30 underage victims who had been sexually abused by wealthy New York hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

While the decision marks a victory for crime victims, the federal judge, Kenneth A. Marra, stopped short of overturning Epstein’s plea deal, or issuing an order resolving the case. He instead gave federal prosecutors 15 days to confer with Epstein’s victims and their attorneys to come up with a settlement. The victims did not seek money or damages as part of the suit. […]

Marra, in a 33-page opinion, said prosecutors not only violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by not informing the victims, they also misled the girls into believing that the FBI’s sex trafficking case against Epstein was still ongoing – when in fact, prosecutors had secretly closed it after sealing the plea bargain from the public record.

For those who might need a refresher, Epstein, a politically connected multi-millionaire, was accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s. A federal criminal investigation into his alleged activities raised the prospect of Epstein spending the rest of his life behind bars, but his high-profile legal team – which featured Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr – were able to strike a plea deal.

And what a deal it was. Epstein ended up pleading guilty to a state charge of soliciting sex from a minor in 2008, which led to an 18-month sentence. He was released after 13 months – during which time he had been permitted to leave the prison and go to work during much of the day – and then went back to living the high life.

How in the world did Epstein get such a deal given the number of his alleged underage victims? It’s a question many have asked of late, and the best answers could probably come from the U.S. Attorney who signed off on the deal.

His name is Alex Acosta, the Labor secretary who, according to a federal judge, handled the case so poorly that he broke the law.

There’s no shortage of important details, but there are a few key elements to keep in mind. First, yesterday was the first time a federal court acknowledged Jeffrey Epstein’s sex crimes against minors. Thanks to Acosta, Epstein previously had a non-prosecution agreement for all federal crimes.

Second, Acosta hid that agreement from Epstein’s victims, which he was not allowed to do. (Similarly, there’s been no explanation of why, exactly, the former prosecutor felt this was a responsible course of action.)

As Rachel summarized, “So, a federal judge just ruled that the current Labor Secretary gave a secret non-prosecution agreement to a prolific, serial child sex offender – then broke the law by agreeing with the guy’s defense team that they’d all keep it secret from the victims.”

Let’s also note for context that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility recently agreed to investigate how the Epstein case was handled.

There’s been no word from the White House on Acosta’s future, and given everything we know about Donald Trump, how his team operates, and the president’s capacity for tolerating scandals, there’s no reason to assume that Acosta will necessarily be forced out from the Department of Labor.

That said, I’m not at all sure how Trump World will defend a cabinet secretary who broke the law to shield a sex trafficker.