President Donald Trump’s labor secretary is reportedly one of the names on a list of potential replacements for Jeff Sessions as attorney general, according to Bloomberg News.
Alex Acosta, who is a former Miami U.S. attorney, has the support of some Republicans in Congress, the outlet noted, because he has already been through the vetting process and “has a compelling life story.”
But part of that story involves the infamous sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein — who pleaded guilty in 2008 to felony solicitation of underage girls and served just 13 months in in jail — and questions surrounding Acosta’s failure to pursue a federal indictment, choosing instead to offer a non-prosecution deal.
> Epstein’s unusually light punishment — he was facing up to a life sentence had he been convicted on federal charges — has raised questions about how Acosta handled the case.
> Former Palm Beach police chief Michael Reiter, whose department conducted the initial investigation into Epstein’s behavior, said in a civil lawsuit deposition that Epstein got off easy.
> “That wasn’t an appropriate resolution of this matter,” Reiter said, arguing that the charges leveled against Epstein were “very minor,” compared with what the facts called for. In a letter to parents of Epstein’s victims, Reiter said justice had not been served.
Epstein was alleged to have abused more than 40 girls, most of whom were 13 to 17 years old.
> Prosecutors in Acosta’s Miami office who had joined the FBI in the investigation concluded, according to documents produced by the U.S. attorney’s office, that Epstein, working through several female assistants, “would recruit underage females to travel to his home in Palm Beach to engage in lewd conduct in exchange for money … Some went there as much as 100 times or more. Some of the women’s conduct was limited to performing a topless or nude massage while Mr. Epstein masturbated himself. For other women, the conduct escalated to full sexual intercourse.”
> Federal prosecutors detailed their findings in an 82-page prosecution memo and a 53-page indictment, but Epstein was never indicted.
Instead, Acosta offered a non-prosecution deal to Epstein, agreeing that he would not pursue federal charges against him or the women who helped find him girls.
> In exchange, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to a solicitation charge in state court, accept a 13-month sentence, register as a sex offender and pay restitution to the victims identified in the federal investigation.
> “This agreement will not be made part of any public record,” the deal between Epstein and Acosta says. The document was unsealed by a federal judge in a civil lawsuit in 2015.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) questioned Acosta on this plea agreement during his Senate confirmation hearing last year.
> Acosta told the committee that the case started at the state level before the Department of Justice decided to get involved. He said the original charge debated would not have led to any jail time and that “based on the evidence,” prosecutors decided to go with a deal where Epstein would have to register as a sex offender and agree to a two-year prison sentence.
> His testimony Wednesday reflected Acosta’s explanation of his decision in a “To whom it may concern” letter that he released to news organizations three years after the decision: “The bottom line is this: Mr. Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire, served time in jail and is now a registered sex offender. He has been required to pay his victims restitution, though restitution clearly cannot compensate for the crime.” Acosta wrote that the case against Epstein grew stronger over the years because more victims spoke out after Epstein was convicted.
Acosta also said that Epstein’s attorneys not only pursued a vigorous defense on behalf of their client but also got personal with the prosecutors.
> In the 2011 letter explaining his decision in the Epstein case, Acosta said he backed off from pressing charges after “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors” by “an army of legal superstars” who represented Epstein, including Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz; Kenneth Starr, who as independent counsel led the investigation that brought about President Bill Clinton’s impeachment; and some of the nation’s most prominent defense attorneys, such as Roy Black, Gerald Lefcourt and Jay Lefkowitz.
> “The defense strategy was not limited to legal issues,” Acosta wrote. “Defense counsel investigated individual prosecutors and their families, looking for personal peccadilloes that may provide a basis for disqualification.”
> Lawyers for the women argue that they had a right under the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act to know about Acosta’s deal with Epstein. They say Acosta sought to keep the deal under wraps to avoid “the intense public criticism that would have resulted from allowing a politically-connected billionaire” to escape from federal prosecution.