Magazine | December 31, 2018, Issue

The Epstein Outrage

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, December 26, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS)
Why did Alexander Acosta once allow a sexual predator to escape due justice?

Jeffrey Epstein is a people person. “I invest in people — be it politics or science,” he said in 2002. “It’s what I do.”

“Invest in,” “purchase,” what’s the difference? You say “tomato,” I say “serial pedophile.” The two professions Epstein mentioned were evidently not exclusive, for Epstein invested quite a bit in the legal industry also. Kenneth Starr, Alan Dershowitz, Jay Lefkowitz: These guys don’t come cheap. Epstein, who managed billions in assets for wealthy clients after leaving Bear Stearns, saw his legal investments pay off hugely when Miami prosecutors who apparently had enough on him to send him to prison for the rest of his life instead elected to tell him he was a very naughty boy. Epstein served but 13 months, and not even in a prison but in the Palm Beach County stockade. Whether the jailers brought gourmet items to him so he could make meals like the ones Big Paulie savored in that not-so-penitent federal penitentiary in Goodfellas, I couldn’t say. But Epstein is a badfella. He has largely gone unpunished. Today the world is finally asking why.

Naturally there is a Trump connection, which marks a change of emphasis from the equally natural Bill Clinton connection. The words “Jeffrey Epstein” didn’t come up in the Hillary Clinton–Donald Trump debates. This dog did not bark. The mutt went mum. The Labrador had laryngitis. A lot of people got laryngitis around Epstein. How much did Trump, who once called Epstein a “terrific guy” he had known for 15 years, and Bill Clinton, who often flew on the financier’s private jet, know about what Epstein got up to with his flock of underage girls? Could they have participated in Epstein’s Pedo Pan escapades? Of course not, that’s preposterous. Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are U.S. presidents, men of unimpeachable character. Well, im­peachable in one case, not-as-yet impeachable in the other. They are men of unconvictable-in-the-Senate character, though. So far.

The particulars of Epstein’s sexual-abuse scheme, as reported in a detailed Miami Herald investigation, are re­volting, but even more disturbing is the final disposition, in which the net that had closed in suddenly went loose for him. From 2001 to 2005, girls as young as 13 said they had been lured into Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion to give massages that turned into disrobing, molestation, or even intercourse. Then, they alleged, Epstein had paid them to go out and find other girls to bring in to perform similar acts. It was “a sexual pyramid scheme,” according to the lead Palm Beach detective involved. “He wanted as many girls as I could get him. It was never enough,” one accuser told the Herald. With stacks of such testimony ready to go, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida was holding a prosecutorial royal flush. He folded against a guy holding a two, a five, a six, a seven, and a coat-check ticket. What case could Epstein have possibly made for himself at trial? “Your honor, I’m the victim of a gaggle of 14-year-old seductresses”?

Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to soliciting prostitution, but since underage girls cannot, in a legal sense, be considered prostitutes, in a trial Epstein’s payments to them would have been irrelevant. Epstein would have been convicted, drawn, and quartered. Then the jury would have requested permission to firebomb his house. Instead, during his 13-month sojourn behind bars, Epstein was granted “work release” access to a “comfortable office” in West Palm Beach, outside the stockade, twelve hours a day, six days a week, the Herald reported. Sex offenders get offices? Other than oval ones? The Palm Beach County sheriff’s written policy states clearly that sex offenders are not entitled to work-release privileges. Moreover, the “non-prosecution agreement” the prosecution signed granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators.” That sounds outlandish. And the deal was kept secret from Epstein’s accusers, which appears to be a violation of federal law.

This was not so much a miscarriage of justice as it was a Kermit Gosnell abattoir of justice. And on December 4, which was supposed to be the first day of jury selection for a civil trial involving several Epstein accusers and a lawyer who planned to use their testimony in a defamation claim he had brought against the financier, he instead settled the suit.

The prosecutor’s name is today of renewed interest because he, Alexander Acosta, is President Trump’s secretary of labor at the moment. Maybe not for many more moments, though. Trump would be wise to set him loose and hope for a recurrence of media laryngitis.

Possibly there is an L.A. Confidential level of all-pervading corruption here. “This agreement will not be made part of any public record,” the non-prosecution deal between Epstein and Acosta read, though it was unsealed by a judge in 2015 in the civil case. The simplest explanation, however, is that Epstein’s highly paid lawyers are experts at the art of scaring people and that his opponents are cowards. During the December 4 proceeding, Epstein ad­mitted (via an attorney) that he had used the justice system “as a tool for extortion” to intimidate a lawyer for some of his accusers, Bradley Edwards. Epstein had sued Edwards in 2009, accusing him of involvement in a client’s Ponzi scheme, but after Edwards countersued for defamation, admitted, “I filed a lawsuit against [Edwards] in which I made allegations about him that the evidence conclusively proves were absolutely false.”

One whistleblower, a house servant named Alfredo Rodriguez, actually aided Trump and Bill Clinton when he tried to peddle a book of Epstein’s phone contacts (and was convicted of ob­struction of justice in the process). Rodriguez said he had circled the names of prominent people who had partici­pated in sexual misbehavior, but the names of Trump and Clinton (and other celebrities, such as Tony Blair, Mick Jagger, and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak) were not circled.

Four years after throwing in his hand against Epstein, Acosta claimed in a whiny 2011 statement in response to the backlash against Epstein’s plea deal that Epstein had hired “an army of legal superstars” who had “investigated indi­vidual prosecutors and their families, looking for personal peccadilloes that may provide a basis for disqualification.” Acosta is not exactly the Eliot Ness of this case. Any prosecutor who alludes to being intimidated by the targets of his inquiries is simply inviting more of the same. No wonder Acosta’s name was floated as a potential replacement for then–attorney general Jeff Sessions. He makes Reince Priebus look like Charles de Gaulle. In the process of being con­firmed by the Senate by a 60-to-38 vote, Acosta argued, lamely, that the non-prosecution agreement was the best he could manage “based on the evidence.” “A plea that guarantees someone goes to jail, that guarantees he register [as a sex offender] generally and guarantees other outcomes, is a good thing,” he said, breezily, as through utterly unfamiliar with the concept of greater punishment for graver crimes.

Trump has so many other smoking guns to worry about, though, that sacking Acosta appears to rank as a relatively low priority. Still, the president can hardly be pleased that House Democrats are nosing around the matter (after their colleagues in the Senate barely pressed Acosta on it) and that Trump’s 2002 account of his friendship with Epstein is being quoted in the papers: “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” Acosta must be grateful that Trump has in the interim made hundreds of even more cringe-inducing statements.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners




Readers weigh in on Allen C. Guelzo’s “The Great War’s Great Price” and Kevin D. Williamson’s “Pillars of Fire.”
The Week

The Week

The worst part about getting coal in your stocking isn’t the indignity; it’s the notice of violation from the EPA.
The Long View

Holiday Revisions

From “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” words and music by Frank Loesser, with revisions and amendments by the women’s-studies department at Bard College...


“Though slave to him I plan to kill, From here on in I mean to do the things I will...”

Most Popular


What Do Republican Voters Want?

The latest entry in the post-Trump conservatism sweepstakes was Marco Rubio’s speech at the Catholic University of America in early November. The Florida senator made the case for a “common-good capitalism” that looks on markets in the light of Catholic social thought. “We must remember that our nation ... Read More

The Houellebecqian Moment

We are living in the imagination of Michel Houellebecq. The bête noire of French literature has spent decades deploring the erosion of Western mores that he believes resulted from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. His last novel, Submission, revolved around the election of a theocratic Muslim to the French ... Read More

‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’

It was just one more segment to fill out the hour, and thereby fill the long 24 hours of Saturday’s cable news on November 2. Or so it seemed. Navy SEAL Mike Ritland was on the Fox News program Watters World to talk to Jesse Watters about trained German shepherds like the one used in the raid that found ... Read More

The Kaepernick Saga Drags On . . . off the Field

Colin Kaepernick’s workout for NFL teams in Atlanta this weekend did not run smoothly. The league announced an invitation to scouts from every team to watch Kaepernick work out and demonstrate that he was still ready to play. (As noted last week, the workout is oddly timed; the NFL season is just a bit past its ... Read More