Have you heard about the latest scandal engulfing the Trump administration? No, I’m not talking about the president’s efforts to extend his property empire to Russia, and his routine bottom-kissing of Vladimir Putin. I mean the scandal that should by rights be generating even more shock and condemnation: the one involving his Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta.
If you don’t know the entirety of the disgusting, vile details, that won’t be surprising. They are actually so sordid—both where Acosta’s own alleged actions and those of the criminal he should have done far, far more to bust are concerned—that TV news cannot properly cover them without likely violating broadcast decency standards.
The Miami Herald has done a great service to God and country by reporting on this very large skeleton in Acosta’s closet, though—and frankly every American voter should go read the paper’s expose now. Then American voters should demand Acosta’s head immediately.
Since the Herald first published its piece delving into Acosta’s ethically inexplicable decision to go super, super, duper-easy on pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the labor secretary has apparently been taken out of the running for two potentially big jobs he’d love to have. The first is attorney general (where an actual nominee, as opposed to an unconstitutional “acting attorney general” is desperately needed).
The second is judge on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a job that Acosta has reportedly had his eye on for quite some time. Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that there was “widespread discussion” that Acosta was “biding his time for a spot on the federal bench,” specifically that circuit, and that he was taking a “risk-averse approach” at Labor in order to enhance or protect his chances of being confirmable.
Quite why Acosta would feel he ever earned or otherwise deserves such a job, in view of his egregious mishandling of the Epstein situation, is a mystery. But clearly, making it to the bench in this capacity was a personal goal—and he probably had higher ambitions even than that (what Circuit Court judge wouldn’t ultimately like to some day be nominated for the Supreme Court?). Now, the truth is, based on what we currently know and in the absence of some seriously exculpatory evidence, he should not be serving as secretary of Labor, either.
Many think of the labor secretary’s job as mostly dealing with union-versus-management issues. But the labor secretary also has other important jobs, among them “combating international child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking.” That is according to the Department of Labor’s own website, which also notes that “Global estimates… indicate that 152 million children between the ages of 5 to 17 engaged in child labor in 2016,” and that “Child laborers are… subject to trafficking for forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.”
Well, Acosta seems to have knowledge of these matters, but it’s not the kind the people who wrote those words on the department’s web site had in mind. If you read the Herald’s story, Jeffrey Epstein wasn’t a bad guy just because he was a pedophile (and it’s hard to find a worse thing to be than that). It was also because he was trafficking in young girls, and effectively running a ring in which girls he had already exploited recruited others in a de facto pyramid scheme of sickness, perversion, and destroyed lives.
Based on what we currently know—and it’s a lot—Acosta gave him barely a slap on the wrist. Given the scope of Epstein’s apparent activity, and the Department of Labor’s responsibilities, there is a grievous mismatch here. Pretty clearly, the 60 senators who voted to confirm Acosta back in 2017 were nowhere near clued in on what he had done, or failed to do, in this case. Up until last week, very, very few of us were.
How many of us knew that 80 or more girls—most between the ages of 13 to 16— were abused by Epstein, that detectives were “astonished by the sheer volume of young girls coming and going from his house, the frequency — sometimes several in the same day,” or that Epstein has “taken the Fifth” more than 200 times in the course of depositions in lawsuits brought by his victims?
How many of us knew that Epstein’s crimes likely extended beyond Florida, to New York and New Mexico and that he was allegedly running a modeling agency to recruit victims as young as 13 from Europe and Latin America? Acosta did; his actions have since been compared to those of the Catholic Church with regard to shielding pedophile priests.
Not only did Acosta cut a plea deal with Epstein allowing him to serve just 13 months in county jail under about the most lenient conditions conceivable rather than the potentially-on-offer rest-of-his-life-in-federal-prison. Acosta also allegedly “conspired with Epstein and his lawyers to circumvent public scrutiny” and hampered victims from exercising their rights to receive notice of court proceedings and appear at Epstein’s sentencing.
You can argue that what is needed now is a full investigation beyond that effectively conducted by The Miami Herald. That is fair; Congress exists in part to provide oversight of the executive branch and its key players, and while the Department of Labor isn’t one of the integral parts of the administration (it does not deal in, say, national security), when its leadership is engulfed in this level of scandal, that should indeed be investigated by our elected officials in the legislative branch. However, the investigation shouldn’t be needed for Acosta to go; it should be done whether or not he goes.
And let’s be clear: Go, he should. His starring role in the Epstein mess means that he has no business heading up a department with forced labor, child exploitation and human trafficking responsibilities. At best, the scandal shows he’s naïve, overawed-by-the-rich-and-powerful, a light touch where people who should be harshly punished are concerned. At worst, it possibly shows he’s a crooked, possibly morally compromised, power-prestige-and-titles hungry tool who can and will be bought off if it simplifies his career progression—and that his career is what matters, not public service.
You can argue over whether we should have a right-wing, union-hating Labor secretary, or a left-wing, union-coddling one. But no one should be arguing that someone with the level of sub-par ethics that Acosta has surely evidenced here is the right man to head any government department, let alone this specific one.
It’s tempting to want to focus all ethical critiques this week narrowly on the President, his family, and his political and business entourage that clearly, whatever the motivation, has been willing to be far too cozy with and soft on Vladimir Putin and his regime. But the biggest ethical scandal afflicting the federal government right now is only tangentially Trump’s, insofar as he nominated and is now served by Acosta, a man whose time should now be up—and who Trump, frankly, should be demanding exit stage right for both principled and political reasons.