Alexander Acosta, as the U.S. attorney in Miami, was responsible for cutting the deal that allowed notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to get away with a slap on the wrist.
In yet another example of the vital importance of old-fashioned investigative journalism (aka "fake news"), the Miami Herald in February detailed the agreement that allowed Epstein to escape any federal charges for his wrongdoing. Instead, he slept at a state prison for 13 months and only had to be there one day a week. When the secret deal was finally made public, outrage ensued. The Justice Department opened an investigation into how the case had been handled. On Monday, Epstein was finally charged with child sex trafficking by the Republican United States attorney in New York.
Disgusting is the word that comes to mind when you read about Epstein's exploits with 14-year-old girls.
New York law now allows those molested as children to file civil suits decades after. Between the criminal charges and the civil suits, the high-flying billionaire king of bad boys may finally start paying for the lives he destroyed. Justice delayed is not good enough.
Epstein is presumed innocent until proven guilty. He will be judged on the evidence.
But the verdict on Secretary Acosta is already in.
"I wanted to help them," Acosta said of the victims this week. "And that's what the prosecutors of my office did. They insisted that he go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator."
Go to jail for 13 months? With permission to go to work six days a week for 12 hours a day? This is help? No, Mr. Acosta. The only one he helped was Jeffrey Epstein.
The rule of law demands that everyone be equal in the eyes of the law. Like cases must be treated alike. No one is above the law.
Obviously, no system is perfect. Mistakes get made. Some lawyers are better than others. Some judges are oriented to the prosecution, fewer to the defense. Give me a rich defendant over a poor one every day: It's not simply a matter of hiring better lawyers; it's about the adequacy of the investigation, the effectiveness of the jury consultant, the lessons learned from mock trials, not to mention the greater drain on prosecutorial resources when you have a well-heeled defendant who will fight every motion.
It's not always fair.
But there are limits to the unfairness that can be tolerated.
Jeffrey Epstein was arrested as he landed in New Jersey from Paris on one of his private planes. He owns two, as well as various palatial estates and an island. No one is quite sure where his money came from, but he used it to "befriend" presidents and princes. There's no evidence that his powerful friends knew about his criminal activity and no evidence that they intervened on his behalf.
But who's kidding whom?
If he were poor and black and he'd had sex with little white girls, we know where he would be for the rest of his life.
Someone has to be responsible.
In this case, responsibility starts with ousting Acosta and making an example of him. There is simply no explanation for the deal he made with Epstein except wealth and power. If a judge had done it publicly, he would be subject to reversal on appeal and, yes, recall by voters in many states. Prosecutors play God in private. The system depends on their integrity. For Acosta to remain in the president's Cabinet, for him to be making decisions that have enormous impact on the lives of the not-so-rich and powerful, is an affront to Epstein's victims and to the rule of law.
Susan Estrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.