Too often in America, poor people (especially poor black people) go to prison for crimes they didn’t commit, while rich people (especially rich white people) don’t go to prison even for crimes they have committed.
The Central Park Five — four young African Americans and one young Latino — spent years in prison for the rape of a white jogger in 1989, which DNA evidence later proved they did not commit. At the time of the crime, Donald Trump even called for them to receive the death penalty.
Contrast that with the handling of a more recent case of alleged rape in suburban Monmouth County, N.J. A 16-year-old boy was accused of filming himself having sex with an intoxicated 16-year-old girl who was slurring her speech and stumbling. Prosecutors said he then circulated a video clip to his friends, texting them, “when your first time having sex was rape.” Yet, a family court judge refused a request from prosecutors to charge the defendant as an adult with aggravated sexual assault because “this young man comes from a good family,” he attended “an excellent school,” and was “clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college.” (An appeals court overruled Judge James Troiano’s decision last month.)
Given such pervasive disparities, it is deeply satisfying to see rich, powerful men such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and, now, Jeffrey Epstein be called to account for their alleged crimes against women. Epstein’s indictment Monday on charges of sexual trafficking of minors was particularly welcome, given the way the billionaire slithered out of an earlier case in Miami in 2008. In a report last year, the Miami Herald identified at least 60 girls, some as young as 13, that Epstein had preyed on dating back to 2001. Yet, by assembling a high-powered, politically connected legal team that included Alan Dershowitz, Kenneth W. Starr and Jay Lefkowitz, Epstein was able to negotiate a generous plea deal with Alexander Acosta — then the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, now the labor secretary — that allowed him to serve about a year in a Palm Beach, Fla., jail while leaving that facility six days a week, 12 hours a day for “work release.”
Epstein was protected not just by his enormous wealth, but also by all of his connections with powerful individuals — such as former president Bill Clinton, the current Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., and Britain’s Prince Andrew. Epstein’s friends now claim to barely know him, but it was a different story in the past. Back in 2002, Trump said, “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.”
Trump himself had an avowed interest in young women: He once reportedly bragged about barging into a dressing room to ogle naked Miss Teen USA contestants. Were Trump and the others aware that Epstein was allegedly molesting underage girls? They have strenuously denied the accusation. If they are lying, Epstein’s enablers in both parties deserve a public reckoning, even if no criminal charges can be filed against them.
But let’s get real. Whatever Trump’s connections with Epstein, the president has been accused of so much criminal conduct that failure to bring him to justice undermines the message of “equal justice under the law” sent by Epstein’s long-overdue indictment.
Sixteen women have accused Trump of some form of sexual assault. Trump has denied the allegations, but their charges are given credence by Trump’s own boast that, as a “star,” he is entitled to grab women by their private parts. The most serious accusation came out just last month: E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. The president claims that Carroll is “totally lying” and is “not my type,” but she told two friends about the alleged attack at the time, and they have come forward to corroborate her account. As George Conway noted in The Post, Carroll’s story “actually rests upon a significantly stronger foundation” than that of Juanita Broaddrick, whose claims of having been raped by Bill Clinton are widely believed on the right. Yet, just a few weeks after Carroll made her explosive allegations, they have fizzled out. There has been no official investigation (that we know of) and no consequences for Trump. His approval rating has actually gone up!
The president has also suffered, to date, no real repercussions for the damning conclusions in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s blockbuster report — even though, according to more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors, there is sufficient evidence against the president to bring “multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.” Nor has Trump been held to account for allegedly conspiring with his lawyer Michael Cohen to violate federal campaign-finance laws — crimes for which Cohen is now serving prison time. More recently, Trump has acted in flagrant contempt of congressional subpoenas. Now, he is even flouting a Supreme Court ruling that would keep a question about citizenship off the 2020 Census form.
Congress won’t move to impeach Trump when 59 percent of the public opposes such a move — and federal prosecutors can’t indict a sitting president according to the president’s own Justice Department. The way things are going, Trump may very well win reelection. As long as Trump sits in the White House, unindicted and unimpeached, justice in America will remain a chimera.