Nov 12, 2020 - Politics & Policy

DOJ finds Alex Acosta exercised "poor judgment" in Epstein plea deal

Photo of Alex Acosta standing at a podium with two American flags behind him
Alex Acosta. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty

Former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta demonstrated "poor judgement" when he signed off on a plea deal with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, but did not commit “professional misconduct,” the Justice Department concluded in a report released Thursday.

Why it matters: The federal criminal investigation, which took place from 2006 to 2008, allowed Epstein to avoid a possible life sentence. He was released after serving 13 months in prison and largely continued business operations and travels until 2019 when he was charged in a new sex trafficking case.

The big picture: With his decision, Acosta failed to consider that the plea deal "required greater oversight," the DOJ said. He resolved the federal investigation before carrying out important investigative steps.

  • The report did note, however, that the decision was within the scope of Acosta’s broad discretion and did not result from “improper factors.”
  • There is no evidence that a “lack of consultation was for the purpose of silencing victims.”
  • The plea deal waived "federal prosecution in the Southern District of Florida of [Epstein], four named co-conspirators, and 'any potential co-conspirators.'"
  • Acosta resigned as President Trump's labor secretary in 2019 after facing scrutiny over his handling of the Epstein case during his tenure as a federal prosecutor in Florida.

What they’re saying: Paul Cassell, an attorney for multiple Epstein victims, called the report a “cover up,” the Washington Post reports.

  • “[Acosta] and his office failed to give notice to victims, misled victims, misinterpreted the law and did not treat the abuse survivors with decency and respect,” Adam Horowitz, another attorney representing Epstein victims, told the Post. “The mountain of mistakes was not just poor judgment. It was reckless.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) demanded the department release its full report, saying in a statement: “Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ — it is a disgusting failure.

  • “The DOJ’s crooked deal with Epstein effectively shut down investigations into his child sex trafficking ring and protected his co-conspirators in other states. Justice has not been served," he added.

What to watch: Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime Epstein confidante, is awaiting trial on charges of recruiting and grooming underage girls. Trump came under fire earlier this year for "wish[ing] her well."

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