Corruption is endemic to the American political system and gets uglier when rooted in a sexual scandal.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump repeatedly promised that he would “drain the swamp” of Washington’s corrupt politics. In one of his numerous Tweets, he promised: “I will Make Our Government Honest Again — believe me. But first, I’m going to have to #DrainTheSwamp.” Unfortunately, the swamp is festering, a symptom of the rot at the head of the political system.
The Miami Herald’s recent series on the relationship between Palm Beach, FL, billionaire hedge-fund manage, Jeffrey Epstein, and R. Alexander Acosta, the Sec. of Labor, is an invaluable case study as to how corruption works. It’s the latest — but likely not the last — scandal to befall the Trump administration.
Epstein is an American financier with a long association with the rich and powerful. He began his career at Bear Stearns before forming his own firm, J. Epstein & Co. In a 2002 puff-piece, New York magazine noted his close relations with Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker. The piece quotes no less an authority of moral character as Trump who said he knew of Epstein’s interest in “younger” women. “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Trump blathered. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
The Miami Herald details how in 2005 he began to assemble a network of dozens – if not a hundred — underage girls for prostitution. The Herald found about 80 women Epstein allegedly molested or sexually abused over a five-year period, including 36 underage victims. Some of the girls were only 13 or 14 years old when they were molested. Miami federal prosecutors originally drafted a 57-page indictment, but it was never filed. Under a “normal” prosecution, someone convicted of the charges against Epstein could have faced a possible life sentence. Epstein claims he hired the girls to give him “massages.”
At the time Acosta became Labor Secretary, Trump proclaimed, “He’ll be a tremendous secretary of Labor.” His appointment came after Trump’s first choice for the job, Andrew Puzder, former CEO of CKE Restaurants (the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.), withdrew after it was revealed that he hired a non-documented housekeeper and later paid outstanding taxes to cover-up his illegal practice.
However, in 2007, Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, met secretly with Epstein’s lawyers at the West Palm Beach Marriott hotel and, it appears, cut a deal for the financier. The following year, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state charges of sexually abusing teenage girls and, magically, Epstein’s lawyers worked out a non-prosecution deal under which Epstein was sentenced to 18 months of incarceration and served 13 months, followed by a year of probation.
Epstein’s sentence was served in a private wing of the Palm Beach County jail, with work release to his office allowed for up to 12 hours a day for six days a week so he could continue working in his private office. In addition, he was required to reach financial settlements with his victims. The Herald calls it the “deal of a lifetime.”
True to the American justice system, while Epstein never went to federal prison, his butler/man-servant, Alfredo Rodriquez, was imprisoned for obstruction of justice – hiding Epstein’s journal and trying to see it.
One of the unexpected twists in this sordid tale involves Virginia Roberts, who, at 16-years in 1999, was working as a locker-room attendant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and was solicited by an Epstein “associate,” Ghislaine Maxwell, to become part of Epstein’s prostitution ring. In court papers, she claims as an underage girl she had commercial sex with the attorney – and Trump’s tireless defender — Alan Dershowitz as well as British Prince Andrew. Both men deny Roberts’ accusations.
On December 4th, Epstein’s lawyers cut a deal with some of the victims for a cash settlement and an apology from the perpetrator. The deal abruptly ended a planned a public trial of Epstein – and, by extension, the then-federal prosecutor, Acosta.
However, the likely case of corruption between a billionaire and a federal prosecutor has raised the ire of some surviving in the Capitol Hill swamp. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and 14 Congressional Democrats have urged the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General to open up an investigation into whether Acosta, while serving as U.S. attorney for Miami, cut a too favorable a deal with Epstein. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NB), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on oversight, has written a series of letters to the Dept. of Justice about the prosecution and may call for a federal inquiry. The Herald has called for Acosta to resign.
Bloomberg recently published a list of 25 “conflicts and scandals” that have beset the Trump administration during its first two years in office. The Epstein-Acosta adventure is not listed, nor are ones directly involving Trump nor the Russia episode being investigate by Robert Mueller.
In all likelihood, the new year will likely bring new revelations about Trump and his flounder administration. Who knows if any will top the “deal of a lifetime” between Epstein and Acosta.