When billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein was arrested this past weekend on new charges that he sexually trafficked, exploited, and abused young teenage girls, attention turned (again) to now-Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s role in shielding Epstein from federal prosecution for similar charges more than a decade ago. And now, calls for him to step down from his cabinet position are growing.
On Monday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote that Acosta “must step down,” noting that Donald Trump was well-aware of Acosta’s role in protecting Epstein when he was nominated to head the Labor Department. Democrats from Senator Tim Kaine to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who earlier this year had called for Acosta to resign, have also demanded he step down.
As the Miami Herald noted in an editorial calling for Acosta to resign, “If Alexander Acosta had done in South Florida what Geoffrey Berman just did in New York, Jeffrey Epstein, a sexual predator, might already be behind bars for the rest of his life instead of serving only 13 months.”
To recap Acosta’s central role in protecting a noted predator: In 2007, Acosta was the federal government’s top prosecutor in Miami. At the time, Epstein was facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in federal prison, having been indicted on federal charges that alleged he recruited and sexually assaulted dozens of young teenage girls at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. But Acosta, in what the Herald described as “the deal of a lifetime,” negotiated a non-prosecution agreement that only required Epstein to register as a sex offender, plead guilty to one solicitation charge in state court, spend 13 months in county jail (much of it on work-release), and pay financial settlements to three dozen women, despite the Herald identifying more than 80 women who recounted they were “molested or otherwise sexually abused by Epstein from 2001 to 2006.”
The Herald, which has done incredible reporting on both Epstein and Acosta, broke down how Acosta “allowed Epstein’s lawyers unusual freedoms in dictating the terms of the non-prosecution agreement” (emphasis my own):
The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane.
As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls — or anyone else — might show up in court and try to derail it.
According to the Herald, Acosta and another federal prosecutor continually “acquiesced to Epstein’s legal team’s demands, which often focused on ways to limit the scandal by shutting out his victims and the media, including suggesting that the charges be filed in Miami, instead of Palm Beach, where Epstein’s victims lived.”
In February 2019, a judge ruled that prosecutors, including Acosta, misled victims and violated the law when they did not inform Epstein’s victims of the plea deal. That same month, the Department of Justice announced it was opening up an inquiry into “allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved.”
But it is Epstein’s latest arrest that has put a larger spotlight on Acosta’s coddling of a sexual predator, a spotlight that comes 12 years too late for all of Epstein’s victims. And it may not even be the scrutiny of his role in shielding Epstein that ultimately brings him down. After all, 60 senators, including eight Democrats, voted to confirm him as Labor Secretary, with full knowledge of the plea agreement he negotiated with Epstein. As Bloomberg wrote, Acosta’s role in the cabinet was “in peril” even before Epstein’s recent arrest. The reason? White House officials and lobbyists are “frustrated” that he “hasn’t moved fast enough on deregulation and other business-friendly initiatives.”