One of the nation's leading women's rights organizations joined a number of political commentators on Friday in demanding to know: How does Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, who was accused last week in an in-depth investigative article by the Miami Herald of helping a serial sexual abuser secure a lenient plea deal, still have a job?
The sexual abuse charges brought against Jeffrey Epstein—a hedge fund manager who counts President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton among his friends—"could have resulted in Epstein spending the rest of his life in prison," said Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). "But instead, he played 'let's make a deal' to subvert justice and escape punishment. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who as U.S. Attorney in Miami cut the deal with Epstein, must resign."
The Herald's year-long investigation revealed that in 2007, Acosta helped Epstein to secure a plea bargain that included just 13 months in a county jail and a non-prosecution agreement after being indicted for "assembling a large, cult-like network" of dozens of underage girls and coercing them into sexual activity.
"Epstein's ability to evade justice is of a piece with the elite impunity that Trump pretended to challenge, but actually embodies." —Michelle Goldberg
The non-prosecution agreement Acosta agreed to effectively ended an FBI probe into Epstein's actions, and contrary to federal law, the deal was kept from the girls he had abused—details of the case which Van Pelt argued demonstrate that Acosta played a key role in affording Epstein the same coddling treatment that has been afforded other powerful abusers.
"Jeffrey Epstein plays by the same rule book as Donald Trump, Les Moonves, Harvey Weinstein, Eric Schneiderman, and other powerful men who have been revealed as serial abusers of women," Van Pelt said. "Epstein's scant 13-month stay in a county jail—where he was even allowed to spend twelve hours a day, six days a week, at his office—was made possible by a culture of powerful men enabling each other, while dismissing, excusing, or demeaning the women and children they brutalize with physical and sexual violence."
In the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg published an editorial this week with the succinct headline, "Why Does Alex Acosta Still Have a Job?"
The fact that the labor secretary is responsible for combating human trafficking, Goldberg noted, is just one cause for outrage in the Acosta case.
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Acosta's agreement with Epstein "should end his career," Goldberg wrote. "The story might have been overshadowed by last week's cascading revelations in the Trump-Russia scandal, or the news that acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker knew of numerous fraud complaints against a company he advised, to take just two examples of administration lawlessness. But while Acosta's record covering up for a depraved plutocrat makes him a good fit for the Trump administration, it should disqualify him from public service."
The editorial staff of the Herald agreed, writing that Acosta is "damaged goods" due to his deal with "the devil Epstein."
"He should realize it and move on," wrote Nancy Ancrum and Luisa Yane at the Herald. "He does not deserve to be in the halls of power—he abused his power so tragically."
Some applauded Penny Nance, head of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, for becoming the first right-wing figure to add her voice to the call for Acosta's immediate resignation—but many on social media took issue with her assertion that Trump "would not have nominated Acosta" if reports of the deal had come out earlier.
Penny Nance is absolutely right to call for Acosta's resignation based on his deal with Epstein, but I disagree Trump might not have selected Acosta if he was aware of this previously. When has a small thing like sex trafficking stopped Trump from selecting someone 4 Cabinet?
— Ray Irwin (@RayIrwin085) December 5, 2018
The Herald has taken this much further, but plenty was known earlier and was part of the public record. Easy to imagine that Acosta was rewarded. GOP did not care about the victims. Rest assured, “Real Donald” had access to most of the info.
— Frank F Herron (@FrankFHerron2) December 5, 2018
"If Acosta is still part of the administration next month" after Democrats take control of the House, Goldberg wrote, "there should be hearings into his handling of the Epstein case. Epstein's ability to evade justice is of a piece with the elite impunity that Trump pretended to challenge, but actually embodies. Congress can send a message: Time's up."