The Justice Department concluded that Alex Acosta and other federal prosecutors exercised “poor judgment” in their handling of 2008’s sweetheart deal with deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Acosta, who resigned as President Trump's labor secretary in 2019 amid increased scrutiny of the Epstein deal he helped orchestrate as the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida, reached the agreement with Epstein’s attorneys, including Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, that allowed their client to plead guilty to two state-level prostitution solicitation charges related to a 17-year-old girl. This allowed Epstein to dodge a slew of serious federal charges. As a part of the deal, Epstein served just 13 months in a Palm Beach County jail where he was allowed out on work release, was forced to pay restitution to certain victims, and was registered as a sex offender.
The agreement was struck before investigators had finished interviewing all the alleged victims and was kept under wraps for more than a year. Many of Epstein’s alleged victims didn't learn of it until he was out of jail. The FBI had been investigating allegations that Epstein had potentially sexually abused numerous minors in Florida.
The Justice Department released the Office of Professional Responsibility's 13-page executive summary on Thursday.
“OPR does not find that Acosta engaged in professional misconduct by resolving the federal investigation of Epstein in the way he did or that the other subjects committed professional misconduct through their implementation of Acosta’s decisions,” the DOJ's executive summary concluded. “Nevertheless, OPR concludes that Acosta’s decision to resolve the federal investigation through the [non-prosecution agreement] constitutes poor judgment. Although this decision was within the scope of Acosta’s broad discretion and OPR does not find that it resulted from improper factors, the NPA was a flawed mechanism for satisfying the federal interest that caused the government to open its investigation of Epstein.”
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee's oversight panel who was briefed on the findings of the inquiry conducted by OPR on Thursday, released a statement criticizing the Justice Department for its lack of action against Acosta.
“Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ — it is a disgusting failure. Americans ought to be enraged. Jeffrey Epstein should be rotting behind bars today, but the Justice Department failed Epstein’s victims at every turn,” the Nebraska Republican said. “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. The full report needs to be released to the public. OPR might have finished its report, but we have an obligation to make sure this never happens again.”
James Wegmann, Sasse’s spokesman, told the Washington Examiner that “the Department of Justice briefed Sen. Sasse by phone this morning on the completion of the investigation and the findings of the executive summary.”
The Justice Department concluded that “with respect to all five subjects of OPR’s investigation, OPR concludes that the subjects did not commit professional misconduct with respect to the development, negotiation, and approval of the NPA.”
The DOJ report recounted that “in Acosta’s view, the federal government’s role in prosecuting Epstein was limited by principles of federalism, under which the independent authority of the state should be recognized, and the federal responsibility in this situation was to serve as a ‘backstop’ to state authorities by encouraging them to do more.”
Acosta, according to the report, “failed to consider the difficulties inherent in a resolution that relied heavily on action by numerous state officials over whom he had no authority; he resolved the federal investigation before significant investigative steps were completed; and he agreed to several unusual and problematic terms in the NPA without the consideration required under the circumstances.”
The Justice Department concluded: “Acosta’s application of federalism principles was too expansive, his view of the federal interest in prosecuting Epstein was too narrow, and his understanding of the state system was too imperfect to justify the decision to use the NPA.”
Epstein was arrested in July 2019 on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges for allegedly abusing girls as young as 14. The indictment against Epstein alleged that he sexually exploited dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, among other locations, between 2002 and 2005, and perhaps beyond. Epstein allegedly “created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit” and “maintained a steady supply of new victims.” The indictment also listed a number of unnamed employees and assistants who had helped Epstein commit these alleged crimes.
Epstein was found dead at the age of 66 in his Manhattan prison cell in August 2019, which the New York City medical examiner determined to be a suicide. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz is conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Sasse said last year that the Justice Department “failed” in its duty to keep the alleged child sex trafficker alive while in prison and so “heads must roll.”
Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's longtime friend and on-again, off-again girlfriend, was arrested in early July and charged with conspiring with Epstein to recruit, groom, and sexually abuse underage girls, as well as perjury in depositions regarding Epstein. The British socialite has said that she “vigorously denies the charges” and pleaded not guilty. She was denied bail by Judge Alison Nathan of the Southern District of New York in July, and her trial is set for the summer of 2021.
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