Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s underwhelming performance at a news conference Wednesday failed to quell cries for him to resign. He left open a batch of questions: Why did you break the law to sign a secret settlement? Why did you not pursue more evidence, as the Southern District of New York prosecutors did? More important, Acosta left himself open to rebuttal and contradiction by the Florida state prosecutor, who objected to Acosta’s retelling of the case.
Former Palm Beach County state attorney Barry E. Krischer released a written statement after Acosta’s news conference. “I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong,” he said. And it went downhill from there for Acosta. “No matter how my office resolved the state charges, the U.S. Attorney always had the ability to file his own criminal charges,” Krischer said. If Acosta, as he claimed in his news conference, was the only one standing between Jeffrey Epstein and a state charge with jail time, he could have pursued his 53-page indictment, Krischer pointed out. Krischer argued that instead Acosta drafted a secret deal in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. “Mr . Acosta should not be allowed to rewrite history,” Krischer concluded.
Krischer might have the chance to tell his story to the House Oversight Committee, which is now investigating the matter. In a letter to Acosta, Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), chairman of the subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties, called for him to appear in front of the committee on July 23. The letter explained:
The hearing will examine your actions as United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in authorizing a non-prosecution agreement for Jeffrey Epstein, as well as the finding by a federal court that you violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by keeping this non-prosecution agreement secret from the victims of Mr. Epstein’s crimes. Your testimony is even more critical now that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York unsealed a new indictment earlier this week outlining a host of additional charges against Mr. Epstein, including luring dozens of teenage girls to his homes in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida, and paying them to engage in sexual activity with him.
In addition, the committee has requested “a briefing from the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Department of Justice, which has been investigating Acosta’s conduct as United States Attorney.” They might also think of calling Krischer up to the Hill to hear his side of the story.
If Acosta wanted to assure Trump that he could put an end to the coverage of a man Trump once was quite chummy with and get his name out of the headlines, he failed miserably. The story — how a member of the Trump team let a wealthy, high-profile defendant off with a deal ordinary defendants would never have gotten — will stick around as long as Acosta does. And the longer Acosta remains, the more questions will arise as to why Trump is invariably on the side of the accused sex predator and never siding with the victims. It will certainly remind voters that Trump has been accused by more than a dozen women of unwanted sexual conduct, including the most recent claim from E. Jean Carroll that Trump raped her.
You’d think Christian conservatives would be the one group pushing the hardest to dump Acosta, but we’ve come to expect that they will stand by the accused sex predator in the White House no matter what the facts and no matter how odious the conduct.
Acosta should go, but if not, at least Democrats will have ample opportunity to demonstrate that the Trump crew and its evangelical cheerleaders would rather stand by the man who let Epstein go than the girls whose lives Epstein allegedly ruined. And Republicans in the House and Senate will shuffle their feet, mumble something about it all being a long time ago and then go back to lecturing us on family values. It’s hard to know who is most depraved — Acosta, Trump or the Republican enablers of both.