Labor Secretary Alex Acosta listens as President Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting last year. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Opinion writer

Jeffrey Epstein, the hedge fund manager and self-proclaimed billionaire, was charged with sex trafficking on Monday in federal court, a crime similar if not identical to one for which he was allowed to enter a plea deal in Florida in 2008 and avoid serious jail time. In violation of the requirement to inform victims of such a settlement, prosecutors in the 2008 case — including Alexander Acosta, the current secretary of labor — hatched the deal in secrecy, tossing aside a 53-page indictment alleging that Epstein recruited underage girls and induced them to recruit others to engage in sex at his home in Florida.

The New York Times suggests, “The indictment in Manhattan could prompt a moment of reckoning for the Justice Department, which for years has wrestled with accusations that it mishandled the earlier case and has faced a barrage of litigation from Mr. Epstein’s accusers. In February, the Justice Department opened its own internal review into the matter.” Don’t get your hopes up for any reckoning from a president recently accused of rape and previously alleged by more than a dozen women to have engaged in unwanted sexual behavior. Don’t expect Trump, who endorsed accused child molester Roy Moore for a Senate seat, to toss Acosta out.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) — lionized by the right as some kind of grand intellect — inquired about the sweetheart settlement during Acosta’s confirmation hearing, but voted to confirm his nomination anyway. Now, Sasse is horrified, simply horrified, that Epstein got such lenient treatment. “Jeffrey Epstein has evaded justice for too long — this child rapist belongs in prison and should not be allowed to post bail and hurt more girls,” he said in a written statement. He added, “This monster received a pathetically soft sentence last time and his victims deserve nothing less than justice. Justice doesn’t depend on the size of your bank account, this billionaire can’t be let out just because he can cut a bail check. The Justice Department needs to see this through.” So why did he vote for Acosta, and why isn’t he demanding he be fired immediately?

As of this writing, no Republican has called for Acosta to go. The excuses run the gamut: “This was up about three months ago, and then all of the sudden it died down, so I don’t know how big of a deal it is” (Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa); to “I’m satisfied [with Acosta]" (Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia); to “I don’t know. Why do you people ask this stuff? Don’t you realize that we’re working on tough legislation?" (I did not make that up; Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska said it.)

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) provided the voice of moral sanity. He put it exactly right:

Monday evening, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted:

I’m tempted to say that the Republican Party should join Pelosi because it wouldn’t want to be associated with an alleged child molester, but Trump already has (Alabama’s Moore). I’m tempted to say that the GOP should care about victimized minors; but its indifference to the plight of mistreated children detained at the border should disabuse you of that notion. I’m tempted to say that the GOP doesn’t want to be on the side of men who abuse women, but ... well, you get the point. If Acosta doesn’t quit as Pelosi suggests, Democrats should pass a resolution in the House demanding Acosta’s resignation. If that doesn’t do it, commence impeachment hearings. It’ll be good practice. And let the Republicans defend the guy who cut a deal with a “monster.”

UPDATE: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for Acosta to quit, for the results of the professional ethics inquiry into the handling of the Epstein plea deal to be released, and for Trump to explain his comment from 2002, “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”


Read more:

Alyssa Rosenberg: We need to know the truth about Jeffrey Epstein and his friends. All of it.

Catherine Rampell: Alex Acosta gave a pass to Jeffrey Epstein years ago. He’s still failing victims today.

David Von Drehle: Jeffrey Epstein’s scandal of secrecy points to a creeping rot in the American justice system