Part II of Series: Did Trump Labor Pick Protect Trump, Rich Rapists, Tax Cheats, Crooked Bankers?
The Trump administration should not be able to hide evidence of abusive practices and cover-up by President Trump's nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Labor just because the administration is also facing an unprecedented FBI probe into its allegedly corrupt complicity with Russian operatives to win last November's elections.
A hold stopping the nomination of Alexander Acosta is necessary unless the senators obtain enough evidence to clear Acosta of allegations stemming from his previous career. This includes the time when he was the Bush administration U.S. attorney in Miami and implemented many dubious if not outrageous prosecutorial decisions.
Acosta faces a confirmation hearing Wednesday. Senators must place a "hold" on his nomination and not just subject him to questions or get distracted by the other extraordinary events in the nation's capital, such as the House Intelligence Committee hearings or Supreme Court nomination hearing.
A hold would create conditions for senators to obtain enough evidence to clear Acosta of allegations stemming from his previous career. Acosta was one of the 84 or so U.S. attorneys allowed to keep their jobs during the 2006 U.S. attorney firing scandal when nine of his colleagues were fired for failing to base their law enforcement judgments on political goals of the White House.
Acosta's dubious decisions include a wrist-slap plea deal for the billionaire pervert Jeffrey Epstein, who was alleged in a federal lawsuit last year to have inflicted multiple rapes upon a 13-year-old in 1994 along with his friend Donald Trump.
The 2008 plea deal's most notorious aspect was that it forbade authorities from investigating others in Epstein's circle, who included Trump, former President Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew of the United Kingdom, plus those who helped implement Epstein's depradations on many underage girls.
A demand for a senate "hold" is our opinion at the Justice Integrity Project. This is a rare editorial by us based on our reporting condensed in last week's column Did Trump Labor Pick Protect Trump, Rich Rapists, Tax Cheats, Crooked Bankers? Do We Find Out Wednesday?
That column and this editorial are part of a multipart series that will continue to examine Acosta's career.
But the cascade of important news — including revelations before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20 that the FBI is investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election — threaten to push Acosta's confirmation out of the spotlight where it deserves to be.
That's especially true given the widespread nature of Acosta's alleged failings and the president's own potential complicity as a direct beneficiary of Acosta's failure to pursue Epstein's sex ring, which a lawsuit filed last year claimed involved his friend and neighbor Trump in raping and threatening a 13-year-old in 1994. The lawsuit filed by a "Jane Doe," later identified as a Katie Johnson, was dropped last November after the plaintiff's attorney said anonymous death threats intimidated the plaintiffs.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington State (shown in an official photo), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, has promised to grill Acosta on the Epstein prosecution. Acosta-led federal prosecutors agreed with their state counterparts in Florida to let the well-connected billionaire Epstein plead to misdemeanor charges in 2008 even though police had accummulated evidence of his enticement of scores of high school and junior high school girls for sex at his West Palm Beach mansion alone.
Witness Evidence, Not Just Questions For Acosta
But grilling is not enough in this instance. In the face of such serious questions about Acosta, Murray and other senators from both parties should place "a hold," a temporary prerogative of senators, on the Acosta nomination until they get necessary evidence. That evidence should include evidence from Florida police outraged over the sweetheart plea deal for Epstein, from the withdrawn "Jane Doe" lawsuit, and from key figures in multiple other scandals buried in Acosta's decision-making.
As precedent, senators and the public can recall that Republican Sen. Dick Shelby of Alabama put a "hold" vast numbers of Obama administration nominees during most of the first six weeks of the Obama presidency in order to extract a promise of fairness from the Obama Defense Department in awarding a $34 billion Air Force tanker contract that Shelby wanted for his largely foreign allies in the military sector who promised to build a reassembly plant in Alabama if the contract were steered away from the incumbent Boeing. If Shelby could create that kind of havoc for that, Murray and her colleagues certainly should pursue truth and justice with at least as much resolve.
Listed below are the names of members of the committee. They are there because the stakes are high and democracy is not a spectator sport. If the kinds of allegations made against Acosta (who like his White House handlers has declined to respond to our requests for comment) do not inspire curiosity at least what would?
HELP Committee Members
Republicans by Rank
Lamar Alexander (TN) (Chairman, shown in an official photo)
Michael B. Enzi (WY)
Richard Burr (NC)
Johnny Isakson (GA)
Rand Paul (KY)
Susan Collins (ME)
Bill Cassidy, M.D. (LA)
Todd Young (IN)
Orrin Hatch (UT)
Pat Roberts (KS)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Tim Scott (SC)
Democrats by Rank
Patty Murray (WA) (Ranking Democrat)
Bernie Sanders (VT)
Robert P. Casey, Jr (PA)
Al Franken (MN)
Michael F. Bennet (CO)
Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
Tammy Baldwin (WI)
Christopher S. Murphy (CT)
Elizabeth Warren (MA)
Tim Kaine (VA)
Maggie Hassan (NH)
Selected Twitter Accounts
Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander)
Patty Murray (@PattyMurray)
Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders)
The Acosta Nomination
As we previously reported, Trump picked former Bush administration prosecutor Acosta Feb. 16 to lead the Labor Department despite his multiple legal controversies involving sex predators, corrupt bankers and billionaire tax cheats. Their crimes largely escaped prosecution from Acosta and his law enforcement colleagues.
In a virtually unprecedented concession to Epstein and his suspected accomplices, Acosta’s deal with Epstein forbade authorities from investigating his associates. These included Epstein's Palm Beach neighbor Trump, who was also a fellow wealthy socialite on Manhattan’s East Side.
Acosta's hands-off federal posture allowed state authorities in the joint federal-state case to arrange a sweetheart deal with the billionaire (shown in a mugshot) to serve 13 months of night incarceration.
County records show that the sentence was so light that Epstein was visited 67 times in his vacant wing of the minimum security Palm Beach County Stockade by an assistant who police say helped wrangle teen masseuses for Epstein during his crime spree, and joined in what the New York Post described in 2009 as the “sordid sex play.”
More recently, a lawsuit filed last September in New York's federal court by a “Jane Doe” (later identified as a Katie Johnson), accused Trump and Epstein of raping her in New York City in 1994 when she was a 13-year-old runaway and aspiring model.
Trump allegedly then threatened her with death if she reported her multiple rapes or Trump’s threat that she would end up like “Maria,” another underage girl, age 12, who was said to have disappeared suddenly from their sex and “party” scene.
The suit was dropped last November because of alleged threats from unknown sources, according to attorney and legal commentator Lisa Bloom, who had authored Why The New Child Rape Case Filed Against Donald Trump Should Not Be Ignored. Bloom, representing an alleged victim in the case, wrote:
An anonymous “Jane Doe” filed a federal lawsuit against GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump last week, accusing him of raping her in 1994 when she was thirteen years old. The mainstream media ignored the filing.
If the Bill Cosby case has taught us anything, it is to not disregard rape cases against famous men. Serious journalists have publicly apologized for turning a blind eye to the Cosby accusers for over a decade, notwithstanding the large number of women who had come forward with credible claims. And now history is repeating itself.
In 2005, Bush appointed Acosta as acting U.S. attorney for Florida’s southern district supervising all criminal and civil litigation for a district based in Miami. Acosta won Senate confirmation the following year for a job he held for the remainder of the Bush administration.
Acosta’s biographical materials claim credit for his office’s prosecutions, especially those that can be portrayed as highly successful. That kind of self-promotion is standard practice for the nation’s 93 regional U.S. attorneys, who function more as supervisors of other prosecutors and agents than as sleuths or courtroom orators.
Acosta’s record thus boasts of many convictions that look suitably impressive in the aggregate. Yet Acosta’s tenure also came during what is known as “the U.S. Attorney firing scandal,” when the Bush administration fired seven (some commentators count nine) of Acosta’s fellow Republican U.S. attorneys around the country for failing to apply the Bush administration’s political criteria sufficiently in their prosecution decisions.
A Legal Complaint Against Both Epstein and Trump
Epstein has been the subject of many civil suits, in addition to his plea deal resolving federal and state criminal charges. For this column, we focus solely on a civil suit naming both him and Trump as defendants.
In November, attorney and legal commentator Lisa Bloom (shown in a file photo) published a column about the suit in the Huffington Post, Why The New Child Rape Case Filed Against Donald Trump Should Not Be Ignored.
"In covering a story," wrote Bloom, a longtime TV and cable commentator currently working for NBC News, "a media outlet is not finding guilt. It is simply reporting the news that a lawsuit has been filed against Mr. Trump, and ideally putting the complaint in context."
Unproven allegations are just that — unproven, and should be identified that way. (Mr. Trump’s lawyer says the charges are “categorically untrue, completely fabricated and politically motivated.”) Proof comes later, at trial. But the November election will come well before any trial. And while Mr. Trump is presumed innocent, we are permitted — no, we are obligated — to analyze the case’s viability now.'
No outsider can say whether Mr. Tump is innocent or guilty of these new rape charges. But we can look at his record, analyze the court filings here, and make a determination as to credibility — whether the allegations are believable enough for us to take them seriously and investigate them, keeping in mind his denial and reporting new facts as they develop.
I have done that. And the answer is a clear “yes.” These allegations are credible. They ought not be ignored. Mainstream media, I’m looking at you.
Next Steps On March 22
During a confirmation hearing on March 22 (postponed from March 15), the nation can examine how the U.S. Senate HELP committee fulfills its responsibilities. The Epstein case is just one example of Acosta's habit of kow-towing to cronies and the wealthy, as the rest of this series will document in coming days.
The drama is whether the senators choose another course and, whether they approve him or not, extract meaningful answers about what he knows and the choices that he has made to become Trump's nominee. Someone might even ask, "Where's Maria?"
Coming next in the Justice Integrity Project's multi-part series on the Acosta nomination: Part III: "Rule of Law, Justice Department Hypocrisy & Prosecution Power." Later segments focus on unsolved crimes, victims, and Senate decision-makers
Related News Coverage
Justice Integrity Project, Did Trump Labor Pick Protect Trump, Rich Rapists, Tax Cheats, Crooked Bankers? Do We Find Out Wednesday? Andrew Kreig, March 14, 2017. President Trump nominated as labor secretary last month a former federal prosecutor suspected of covering up multiple scandals, including the alleged rape of underage girls in 1994 by billionaire pervert Jeffrey Epstein and Trump, who was Epstein’s friend and neighbor.
With a Senate confirmation hearing scheduled Wednesday, Trump picked former Bush administration prosecutor R. Alexander Acosta Feb. 16 to lead the Labor Department despite his multiple legal controversies involving sex predators, corrupt bankers and billionaire tax cheats. Their crimes largely escaped prosecution from Acosta and his law enforcement colleagues. Most dramatic was Acosta’s confidential plea agreement in 2008 not to prosecute Epstein for operating what police described as massive sex trafficking ring that allegedly involved Trump in the rape of a 13-year-old in 1994, according to a recent lawsuit withdrawn last year.
In a virtually unprecedented concession to a defendant and his suspected accomplices, Acosta’s deal with Epstein forbade authorities from investigating his associates. These included Epstein's Palm Beach neighbor Trump, who was also a fellow wealthy socialite on Manhattan’s East Side.
Acosta's hands-off federal posture allowed state authorities in the joint federal-state case to arrange a sweetheart deal with the billionaire (shown in a mugshot) to serve 13 months of night incarceration. This special treatment was meted out despite massive police evidence that Epstein sexually abused scores of underage girls recruited from Palm Beach area junior high and high schools.
Related News Coverage (Segments Arranged In Reverse Chronological Order)
Acosta Confirmation Vote
Washington Free Beacon, Senate Poised to Confirm Acosta to Labor Department, Bill McMorris, April 25, 2017. GOP expects that law school dean has the votes to join the cabinet. The Senate is expected to confirm Alexander Acosta as the next Secretary of Labor by the end of the week. The Senate will hold a cloture vote on Wednesday to move Acosta's nomination to the full Senate floor and Republicans expect to hold a vote before Friday. Acosta, dean of the Florida International University School of Law, will be one of the last cabinet officers to be seated in the administration after President Trump's initial nominee, fast food executive Andy Puzder, withdrew from consideration in February.
Acosta has enjoyed a less contentious process than Puzder, who was the subject of an intense campaign from labor groups over his company's wage policies, as well as pressure due to the resurfacing of since-retracted allegations of domestic abuse.
Acosta, unlike Puzder, has prior public sector experience and has been confirmed by the Senate to three different administration positions, including a short term on the National Labor Relations Board, the federal government's top labor arbiter. He has won several major endorsements from labor unions, including the International Association of Fire Fighters, Laborers International Union of North America, and International Union of Operating Engineers.
Despite those endorsements, some have soured on the nomination following his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised Acosta and said he "deserves serious consideration" when the nomination was announced in February. He changed course following the hearing.
"Alex Acosta’s testimony today raises serious questions and doubts whether he is committed to making life better for working families," Trumka said in a March statement. "Mr. Acosta's nomination was a major improvement over the previous nominee, based on his qualifications, yet he offered no indication that he would use those qualifications to stand up for workers."
Acosta's Confirmation Hearing March 22
Washington Post, Labor nominee Acosta cut deal with billionaire guilty in sex abuse case, Marc Fisher, March 21, 2017. President Trump is a witness in a lawsuit over how federal prosecutors, including Alexander Acosta, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, handled the accusations against billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. On eve of hearing, questions linger over whether labor nominee will stand up for workers.
There was once a time — before the investigations, before the sexual abuse conviction — when rich and famous men loved to hang around with Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire money manager who loved to party. They visited his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. They flew on his jet to join him at his private estate on the Caribbean island of Little Saint James. They even joked about his taste in younger women.
Now, Trump is on the witness list in a Florida court battle over how federal prosecutors handled allegations that Epstein, 64, sexually abused more than 40 minor girls, most of them between the ages of 13 and 17. The lawsuit questions why Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, former Miami U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin Wednesday, cut a non-prosecution deal with Epstein a decade ago rather than pursuing a federal indictment that Acosta’s staff had advocated.
Although Epstein’s friends and visitors once included past and future presidents, rock stars, and some of the country’s richest men, he is no longer a social magnet. Epstein pleaded guilty to a Florida state charge of felony solicitation of underage girls in 2008 and served a 13-month jail sentence. Politicians who had accepted his donations, including former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, have scurried to give them back. (Harvard University kept a $6.5 million gift, saying it was “funding important research” in mathematics.)
But 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.
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.”
Politico, Sen. Murray signals interest in Acosta's role in billionaire's sex plea deal, Josh Gerstein, March 17, 2017. A key Democratic senator is exploring Labor Secretary nominee Alex Acosta's role in what critics have described as a "sweetheart plea deal" given to a billionaire sex offender while Acosta was the top federal prosecutor in south Florida.
The top Democrat on the Senate HELP committee, Patty Murray of Washington, sent a letter to the Justice Department Thursday asking for records on a variety of topics, many of them relating to Acosta's service as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under President George W. Bush.
However, the last of Murray's requests seeks: "All documents and communications authored by or referencing Mr. Acosta related to the investigation of Jeffrey Epstein." Epstein, a wealthy financier, came under investigation by state and federal authorities over allegations that he had members of his personal staff solicit teenage girls at a local high school to come to his home to engage in sexual activities for money.
As the U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges against Epstein, a wealth financier, if he pleaded guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Soon after the deal was cut in 2008, two women filed suit claiming that the decision to forgo federal prosecution violated a federal law - the Crime Victims Rights Act - because they and other teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. The suit remains pending nearly a decade later.
While Acosta's involvement in the Epstein saga drew media attention as soon as his nomination was announced, senators have been relatively quiet about the issue before Murray raised it in her request to the Justice Department this week.
News Reports On Alexander Acosta's Nomination As Labor Secretary
Trump Listed As Witness In Friend Epstein's Pedophile Civil SuitTrial
Florida Bulldog, President Trump on witness list in Palm Beach lawsuit involving billionaire pedophile, Dan Christensen, March 14, 2017. President Donald Trump is on a list of witnesses for trial in a Palm Beach lawsuit that pits billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein against a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represents Epstein’s victims. The case appears bound for trial this summer following a Feb. 9 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in another case that has allowed Fort Lauderdale lawyer Bradley Edwards’ claim of malicious prosecution against Epstein to proceed.
President Trump “has been identified as an individual who may have information relating to these allegations,” said Edwards’ West Palm Beach attorney Jack Scarola, who placed Trump’s name on a witness list on Aug. 31. “But it’s unlikely that he would ever be called” to appear at trial, especially now that he’s assumed the presidency. Scarola said Trump is one of a number of high-profile individuals whose testimony might be relevant because they “had a relationship with Epstein that would have at least exposed them potentially to what was going on inside Epstein’s Palm Beach home … during the relevant period of time” between 2001-2007.
Washington Examiner, Labor secretary nominee Acosta's confirmation hearing postponed, Sean Higgins, March 12, 2017. The first Senate hearing for R. Alexander Acosta, President Trump's nominee to head the Labor Department, has been postponed until later this month.
The event, which had been set for this week, was pushed back due to a scheduling conflict, a spokesman for Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said.
Because Chairman Alexander will be joining President Trump in Nashville on Wednesday, Alexander Acosta's confirmation hearing will be rescheduled to Wednesday, March 22nd at 9 a.m. The Executive Session for committee members to vote on Mr. Acosta's nomination will be scheduled for the following week," said committee spokesman Taylor Haulsee.
Associated Press via Northwest Indiana Times, Trump's labor nominee likely to be asked about Florida case, Curt Anderson and Laurie Kellman, March 11, 2017. Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta is expected to face questions at his Senate confirmation hearing about an unusual plea deal he oversaw for a billionaire sex offender while U.S. attorney in Miami.
Acosta has won confirmation for federal posts three times previously, but he has never faced scrutiny on Capitol Hill for his time as U.S. attorney.
Critics, including attorneys for some underage victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein, say the plea agreement was a "sweetheart deal" made possible only by Epstein's wealth, connections and high-powered lawyers. Acosta has defended his decisions as the best outcome given evidence available at the time.
"Some may feel that the prosecution should have been tougher. Evidence that has come to light since 2007 may encourage that view," Acosta wrote in a March 2011 letter to media outlets after leaving the U.S. attorney's office. "Had these additional statements and evidence been known, the outcome may have been different. But they were not known to us at the time."
Senate aides from both parties expect Democrats to raise the case during Acosta's confirmation hearing Wednesday (postponed until March 22) as an example of him not speaking up for less-powerful people. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.
Sen. Patty Murray (shown in an official photo), the leading Democrat on the committee, said in a statement she met with Acosta on Thursday and is concerned about whether he would "stand up to political pressure" and advocate for workers as labor secretary. Unlike Trump's original choice for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, Acosta is expected to win confirmation.
The Florida International University law school dean was nominated after Puzder, a fast-food executive, withdrew over his hiring of an undocumented immigrant housekeeper and other issues.
Acosta, 48, has previously won Senate confirmation as Miami U.S. attorney, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division and the National Labor Relations Board.
Wayne Madsen Report, Labor pick Acosta part of Epstein-Trump underage sex crime cover-up, Wayne Madsen (shown in file photo), Feb. 17, 2017 (subscription required). Alexander Acosta, President Trump's pick to replace failed nominee Andrew Puzder as Labor Secretary, has his own political baggage stemming from his actions as U.S. Attorney for Southern Florida in the sweetheart plea deal involving billionaire pederast Jeffrey Epstein.
Acosta agreed to a rather unprecedented non-prosecution agreement (NPA) struck with Epstein and his attorneys on October 30, 2007 that saw the federal government waive any future prosecution of Epstein or any of his associates named or unnamed by underage female sexual abuse victims of Epstein.
New York Times, Labor Nominee’s Role in Sex Case Could Draw Scrutiny, Barry Meier, Feb. 17, 2017. For R. Alexander Acosta, President Trump’s new pick for labor secretary, renewed attention on a salacious lawsuit may not come at a great time. A decade ago, Mr. Acosta, the United States attorney in Miami at the time, played a role in what critics said was a lenient plea deal given to a wealthy New Yorker, Jeffrey E. Epstein, who was accused of paying underage girls for sexual massages.
Now, as senators consider Mr. Acosta’s nomination for a cabinet position, the sordid details of Mr. Epstein’s case are set to receive another public airing. The setting will be a federal courtroom in Manhattan, where a trial is expected to start in the spring in a defamation lawsuit brought against one of Mr. Epstein’s associates, Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the British publishing mogul Robert Maxwell.
The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by Virginia L. Giuffre, who said she was one of Mr. Epstein’s victims. Ms. Giuffre has accused Ms. Maxwell of helping to procure underage girls to engage in sexual activities with Mr. Epstein. In the suit, Ms. Giuffre contends that Ms. Maxwell has defamed her by calling those accusations “untrue” and “obvious lies.” (The photo at left shows Prince Andrew, Ms. Giuffre and Ms. Maxwell.)
Ms. Maxwell, in turn, argues that she had the right to publicly defend herself against Ms. Giuffre’s accusations. The trial, if it proceeds, will probably produce a stream of headlines about sex-trafficking, and could renew scrutiny of Mr. Acosta’s role in Mr. Epstein’s plea deal.
The matter goes back to 2005, when Mr. Acosta was the top federal prosecutor in Miami. Police detectives in Palm Beach, Fla., where Mr. Epstein had a home, discovered that women working for him were finding teenage girls to give him sexual massages. Some of the girls were 15 or younger, the authorities said.
Withdrawal of Puzder Nomination As Labor Secretary
Roll Call, Report: Puzder to Back Out of Labor Secretary Nomination, Staff report, Feb. 15, 2017. Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. head lacked confirmation votes. Andrew Puzder, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Labor secretary, is apparently backing out of the confirmation process. According to CNN and other media outlets, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which runs the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains, had been heavily criticized since being picked in December, and decided to withdraw his nomination. Among the critiques were allegations of domestic abuse, financial conflicts of interest, his employment of an undocumented immigrant, and worker complaints filed against his company.