A stammering, soft-spoken Labor Secretary Alex Acosta spent his Wednesday afternoon desperately trying to convince a deeply skeptical public that he acted entirely above board while overseeing alleged child rapist Jeffrey Epstein’s sweetheart plea deal a decade ago.
Acosta also attempted to place blame on everyone but himself—from the Florida’s state prosecutors to changing norms around “victim shaming”—while framing himself as having put “a bad man” in jail, even if only for a short time.
“We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight and we live in a very different world,” Acosta said during a press conference when asked whether he would help engineer Epstein’s same non-prosecution agreement now. “Today’s world treats victims very, very differently.”
As first detailed by The Miami Herald in a deeply investigated report on Acosta’s involvement in Epstein’s 2008 plea deal, Acosta—then the top federal prosecutor in Miami—signed off on an agreement in which Epstein pleaded guilty to state prostitution charges rather than face trial. The billionaire spent 13 months in a Palm Beach jail, where he was allowed to spend significant time on work release. Notably, Acosta also allowed the non-prosecution agreement to go forward without notifying Epstein’s many accusers, which appears to violate the Crime Victim’s Rights Act—a move Acosta defended on Wednesday.
Perhaps most striking about Acosta’s pass-the-buck tactic was his steadfast refusal to straightforwardly apologize to the victims. Asked if he had any regrets about the light sentence Epstein was handed, Acosta doubled down on his insistence that he’d done everything by the book.
“Based on the evidence, there was value to getting a guilty plea and having him register [as a sex offender],” Acosta responded after a lengthy pause. “Look, no regrets is a very hard question.”
Pressed about whether he had a message for the victims, Acosta urged them to still come forward, despite his utter failure to secure justice for the women and girls who did just that years ago.
Trump’s Labor Secretary also seemed keenly aware that he was essentially speaking to an audience of one—tacitly acknowledged that he serves “at the pleasure of the president” who, he claimed, has supported him so far.
On Saturday, Epstein was again arrested and indicted for sex trafficking and sexual assault allegedly committed between 2002 and 2005 in both Florida and New York. He has pleaded not guilty to the new charges.