Jeffrey Epstein was the serial abuser of underage girls who got a sweetheart plea deal from then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta in 2008. More than a decade later, after the Miami Herald blew the whistle on the deal, the Department of Justice conducted an investigation. The findings of the investigation were released yesterday.
The DOJ concluded that Acosta exercised “poor judgment” but not “professional misconduct.” It found no evidence that Acosta signed off on the deal “based on corruption or other impermissible considerations such as Epstein’s wealth, status, or associations.”
“Poor judgment” and “corruption/impermissible considerations” aren’t the only possible ways to categorize Acosta’s handling of the Epstein case. Adam Horowitz an attorney who represents some of Epstein’s victims, calls Acosta’s conduct “reckless.” Sen. Ben Sasse calls it “a disgusting failure.”
But what accounts for the failure? Why did Acosta agree to such an epically bad deal?
We might have a better idea of Acosta’s thinking had not his emails from the relevant period — May 2007-May 2008 — been irretrievably lost due to a “technical glitch.” We might have a better idea of the degree, if any, to which Epstein’s attorneys exerted undue influence had DOJ investigators interviewed members of Epstein’s defense team. But according to former U.S. district judge Paul Cassell, who represents some of Epstein’s victims, the DOJ did not conduct such interviews.
Citing this failure, Cassell, himself a former high-ranking Justice Department official, calls the DOJ’s report a “coverup.”
We are left, then, to speculate about Acosta’s thinking. I believe Acosta was overawed by Epstein’s defense team. He was overawed by the prospect of having to litigate against its lawyers. In addition, I believe he was overawed by their prestige and connections to the D.C. Republican legal establishment he hoped to rejoin (and did rejoin) after he completed his time as U.S. Attorney in Florida.
I’m not surprised that the DOJ found no evidence of corruption in the strong sense. I’m pretty sure that even a more thorough investigation wouldn’t have revealed payments to Acosta or promises of future benefits or employment. Acosta’s emails, had they not been “lost,” might or might not have been consistent with my view of his thinking.
I doubt we’ll ever know for sure why Acosta agreed to the sweetheart deal. The best we can do is to go with Ben Sasse’s description. Acosta’s handling of the Epstein’s case, and that of the DOJ as a whole, was a disgusting failure.