Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein used to hang out together at Mar-a-Lago, where young women were allegedly recruited into Epstein’s sex-trafficking ring. Flight records show that Trump had hitched a ride on Epstein’s private jet, dubbed the “Lolita Express.” And in 2016, a woman accused Trump of assaulting her at Epstein’s New York City mansion.
But if Epstein’s recent arrest on sex-trafficking charges takes down anyone in the Trump administration, it seems unlikely that it’ll be the guy at the top. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta might not be as lucky.
Over a decade ago, when Epstein first faced accusations of running a sex-trafficking ring that preyed on underage women, Acosta was U.S. Attorney in Florida. His handling of Epstein’s case has come under renewed scrutiny following the wealthy money manager’s arrest over the weekend. Now, calls for his resignation are accelerating. Can he survive?
Acosta’s connection to Epstein
In 2007, Acosta cut a deal with Epstein’s attorneys allowing the accused child molester to escape federal charges that, according to the Miami Herald, could have put him away for life. Instead, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges and served 13 months in jail.
The deal, according to the Herald, also “shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes.” The paper reports that the agreement Acosta struck with Epstein’s lawyers was unusual in a few different ways. First, the non-prosecution agreement was kept secret from the victims. It also granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators.” Given the bold-faced names Epstein counted among his friends, that was an important clause.
Acosta gave Epstein what many have called a sweetheart deal that not only allowed him to escape serious federal charges, but made his 13-month jail stay as cushy as possible. Epstein, who had to register as a sex offender and pay restitution to his victims, served his time in a vacant wing of the Palm Beach County Jail and was allowed to spend 12 hours a day, six days a week, working in his office.
Acosta has defended the apparent special treatment given to the wealthy and well-connected Epstein. In April, he told a House panel that Epstein “was going to get off with no jail time or restitution” without the deal Acosta struck. “It was the work of our office that resulted in him going to jail,” he said.
Acosta’s handling of the case also resulted in a rebuke from a federal judge. In February, District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that prosecutors in the Epstein case violated federal law by keeping his deal secret from his victims.
Calls for resignation
The calls for Acosta to step down from the Labor Department began over the weekend, with California congressman Ted Lieu asking on Twitter, “Why is Acosta still Labor Secretary?” On Monday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted her own call for Acosta’s resignation.
By Tuesday, a handful of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates echoed her.
While no congressional Republicans have said Acosta needs to go, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is reportedly pushing Trump to make the move. Politico reports:
Mulvaney told Trump on Monday that the continuing drip of damaging information surrounding the 2008 agreement Acosta struck to keep billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein from a heavy jail sentence would hurt the administration, according to two people familiar with the conversation.
Trump’s sticking with him — for now
On Tuesday morning, Acosta broke his silence on the case and mounted a defense of his handling of the case. In three tweets, he wrote:
“The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence. With the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator. Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
Trump followed that by telling reporters that he feels “very badly” for Acosta, whom he called “an excellent secretary of Labor.” By Wednesday though, Trump’s sympathy seemed to be waning as he pushed Acosta to defend himself to reporters in a hastily arranged press conference.
According to one report though, there’s “zero” chance Trump fires Acosta over this.
It’s not just the Epstein case
Acosta’s role in the Epstein scandal is drawing attention to other issues, like the employer-friendly policies he’s advanced as Labor secretary. As New York’s Sarah Jones wrote, “Whenever Acosta has an opportunity to deliver justice to workers or to survivors of child sexual abuse, he sacrifices the weak to the powerful.”
Another example emerged in a report from the Guardian Wednesday. In Acosta’s 2020 plans for the Labor Department, he is “proposing 80 percent funding cuts for the government agency that combats child sex trafficking.”
“This is now a pattern,” Massachusetts representative Katherine Clark told the Guardian. “Like so many in this administration, Mr. Acosta chooses the powerful and wealthy over the vulnerable and victims of sexual assault and it is time that he finds another line of work.”