Donald Trump's Health and Human Services secretary was forced out for racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel bills for private flights. He fired his secretary of state for wanting to get tough with Russia. His EPA administrator and Interior secretary had so many ethics conflicts that they were really stinking up the joint and had to go. His attorney general got the ax for refusing to break the law. His Defense secretary couldn't abide the president's foreign adventurism and split. Then his acting Defense secretary left to spend mote time with his family (gak!) because of domestic abuse allegations. His Homeland Security secretary quit amidst the uproar over migrant concentration camps. But his Labor secretary has broken new ground in a profoundly dysfunctional administration where no fewer than an astonishing eight Cabinet members and 46 other ranking officials have now been forced out or resigned.
It is not surprising that Alexander Acosta did not survive the shitshow over the secret 2008 plea agreement he brokered with the powerful lawyers for sex trafficker and onetime Trump pal Jeffrey Epstein in South Florida.
Acosta submitted his resignation to Trump on Friday morning, and while the president publicly said he didn't want Acosta to go, he was privately unhappy with how the Labor secretary was handling the uproar and how it might effect his struggling reelection campaign, so it is probable that he was forced out.
The likelihood of Acosta not surviving increased by the day as details trickle out about the sweetheart deal he brokered for the politically-connected maybe billionaire, which turned a potential life sentence into a wrist slap and enabled the dutiful Acosta to get his ticket punched for bigger and better things in the Republican Party, which eventually included a post in Trump's revolving-door Cabinet.
Then there are the longer term screw-the-victims consequences of that horrific deal which continued right up to Epstein's arrest last Saturday as his lawyers continued to exert pressure to get him out from under a legal cloud and he continued to live a lavish life of impunity.
Acosta was caught in the harsh glare of that most malleable and elusive of commodities in Trumpworld -- the truth.
This is because a new sex-trafficking indictment against an unrepentent Epstein -- who watched the ticker tape parade up Broadway on Wednesday for the Women's World Cup champion U.S. team from his holding cell at the Manhattan Detention Center, if at all -- charges him with running a sex-trafficking operation that brought dozens of girls as young as 14 to his opulent mansion on the Upper East Side of New York where he could satisfy his cravings and pay some of the the girls to recruit other girls in a kind of carnal pyramid scheme.
The new indictment is a consequence of an award-winning series by Miami Herald investigative reporting ace Julie Brown that included interviews with Epstein's victims and the seamy details of the secret plea agreement.
Brown repeatedly sought comment from Acosta and he repeatedly ducked her, blowing an opportunity to speak out against sex trafficking. And rather unbelievably, he again blew that opportunity on Wednesday afternoon at a press conference where he "took a page from Donald Trump’s sexual assault impunity playbook," as Slate's Dahlia Lithwick aptly put it, and dug a deeper hole for himself by refusing to resign or apologize while inferring that Epstein's victims were to blame.
Trump, of course, never apologizes and demands that his lackeys also never do since loyalty always is more important than doing the right thing. Even in a case in which possibly hundreds of young women and girls were victimized. As Trump told journalist Bob Woodward last year in a fit of candor, "You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you're dead. That was a big mistake you made."
Trump, as we have been reminded, was a long time skirt chaser and Mar-a-Lago party animal along with Epstein. The president once called him a "terrific guy" and "It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side." But now says, "I was not a fan of his."
"Facts are important and facts are being overlooked," Acosta told reporters at his press conference without saying what those facts are in asserting that he had secured a reasonable sentence facing an uncertain trial with reluctant witnesses.
"These cases are complex, especially when they involve children," he added. "I wanted to help them. That is why we intervened. And that's what the prosecutors of my office did — they insisted that he go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator."
Alas, the world was unaware, as were Epstein's victims, that Acosta allowed Epstein's attorneys an unusual amount of control over the deal's terms.
Brown wrote that Florida officials believed the evidence against Epstein was already "overwhelming, including phone call records, copies of written phone messages from the girls found in Epstein’s trash and Epstein's flight logs."
Then came the secret plea agreement, which rather unbelievably allowed Epstein to serve 13 months not breaking rocks in a penitentiary yard but lounging in the private wing of a county jail with the right to leave for up to 12 hours six days a week so he could hang out at the scene of the crime -- his opulent Palm Beach mansion. The deal effectively ended an FBI investigation, and under its generous terms Epstein and four alleged accomplices were shielded from far tougher federal prosecution. Until now.
Acosta described his so-called predicament as an either-or situation -- a plea agreement or state charges that were insufficient or a federal trial that might fail.
But as Aaron Blake notes in The Washington Post:
Why did that decision have to be made right then and there? If the evidence wasn't there yet to be confident in a large-scale federal case, why not investigate further and hopefully uncover what federal prosecutors in New York revealed on Monday?The answer, of course, is that Acosta didn't want a large-scale federal case on top of Florida prosecutors' overwhelming evidence because Epstein's lawyers were rightfully fearful of the consequences, so a sweetheart plea agreement was struck, a deal that smells like it could have included a bribe. We shall see.
As shitshows go, Acosta's was a multi-layered beaut.
Although few people are likely to make the connection, those "Equal pay!" chants that have become the mantra of that championship U.S. team point up not just an egregious wage disparity between woman soccer pros and their male counterparts, but in society as a whole.
Whose job is it to address such matters? Acosta. But then the attitude of the Trump administration and Republican Party towards women is not exactly a state secret.
Then there is Trump's slowly dawning realization that his re-election is in grave jeopardy, hence his hilarious attempt to attract the moderate voters he desperately needs by reinventing himself as an environmental champion. The reality, of course, is that he has been committed to destroying the environmental reforms of his predecessors. In that context, sticking with Acosta was not a winner because it was likely to tick off moderate woman voters in particular, and rightfully so.
Anyhow, my guess is that Trump stuck with his Labor secretary until the awful consequences of a plea agreement made with Acosta's acquiescence started to pile up.
The New York Times revealed that in 2011, Jennifer Gaffney, a prosecutor in the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., argued before State Supreme Court Justice Ruth Pickholz that Epstein's sex-offender status should be reduced to the lowest level, which would have kept him from being listed on a registry of sex offenders for life. An appalled Pickholz rejected the request out of hand.
"I have to tell you, I'm a little overwhelmed because I have never seen a prosecutor's office do anything like this," the Pickholz told Gaffney.
The New York Post revealed that Epstein never once checked in with New York City police in the eight-plus years through to his arrest although Pickholz had ordered him to do so every 90 days as a registered sex offender.
New York magazine revealed that the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating Acosta's handling of the case while SDNY prosecutors will be presenting evidence about Epstein's conduct that was the subject of the plea agreement.
CNN revealed that there are many more victims of Epstein than have been reported, leading prosecutors to allege that he "created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit" in New York and Florida.
And The Guardian revealed that Acosta tried to slash by 80 percent Labor Department funding dedicated to combating human trafficking. When Congress balked, he returned to Capitol Hill two months later to advocate a second budget cut just as deeply.
Meanwhile, Brown told CNN's Alysin Camerota that Acosta's investigators did such a slipshod job that Epstein's computers, a rich trove for SDNY prosecutors, were never subpoenaed as Epstein's victims were kept in the dark about the plea agreement.
On Thursday, Epstein's attorneys asked a federal judge to allow him to be freed on bail in advance of his trial on the new sex trafficking charges, saying that he was willing to put up his Manhattan mansion and private jet as collateral and agree to home confinement and GPS monitoring.
The attorneys attacked the prosecutors' case and signaled they intend to vigorously challenge whether the charges are legal given his Florida guilty plea.
Attempting to rebut the government's characterization of Epstein as an impenitent sex criminal, they described him as a "self-made" man who was being held "on dated allegations for which he was already convicted and punished."