Acosta Tries to Defend Himself by Blaming the Victims

While a number of prominent Democrats continue to pressure Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta to resign, Acosta decided to take “a page from Kavanaugh” and hold a press conference yesterday to try and shift the blame to the victims to see if that would help his troubles stemming from the recent Epstein arrest. Acosta attempted to defend his actions as a prosecutor a decade ago, when he was a United States attorney who gave Jeffrey Epstein an extremely lenient sweetheart deal in a sex crimes case. Acosta and his office are also being accused of failing to properly notify victims pursuant to federal law and dismissing victims who wanted to proceed with prosecuting Epstein.

In the press conference, Acosta tried to explain the 2008 Epstein plea deal by claiming that he wanted to ensure that Epstein would face jail time and that going to trial would have been too risky, “a roll of the dice.”

The deal Epstein received from Alexander Acosta gave him immunity from federal prosecution, he only served 13 months in county jail and was allowed to spend his days on work release at his Palm Beach office. Epstein was also required to register as a sex offender.

Acosta stood behind a podium yesterday and emphasized that there were so many “challenges faced.” Specifically, that many of the victims had refused to testify, were unwilling to assist his office in moving forward and that “some victims exonerated Epstein.” Although there were victims who had been groomed by Epstein and were unwilling to move forward, there were 36 victims total. According to Miami Herald journalist Julie Brown, who was able to locate more victims than Acosta’s own team, there were emails that proved that some victims very much wanted to go forward.

“There were quite a few of them who wanted to go to trial and were calling the Justice Department and calling [Acosta’s] office and calling his prosecutors to say, what’s going on with the case, I gave your F.B.I. Agents all this information, I want to go forward. You don’t need every single woman to cooperate in this case, you really only need one and then mention the fact of by the way we have all these statements by all these other women that cooperated with us, and we have evidence.” -Julie Brown, Miami Harold reporter to CNN

Acosta and the U.S. Attorney also failed to properly notify the victims pursuant to federal law, The Crime VictimsRights Act ( 18 U.S.C § 3771), which is illegal. Acosta tried to claim that a woman on his team tried to notify the victims, but found out that the hearing had been scheduled for the next Monday on the previous Friday by the state, therefore they were unable to let everyone know. This makes no sense. In order to comply with a federal law, the U.S. Attorney would have had the power to tell the state to postpone until every victim could be notified pursuant to federal law. Even in the event that the state would not oblige, which is not likely, the federal prosecutors could have made an argument at the actual hearing to the judge for a postponement on that basis, and it would have almost definitely been granted. (Click the Twitter link below to watch the video of Acosta.)

When Acosta was asked about having the chance to change things looking back, he doubled-down and claimed he followed “department policy.” Let me explain as an attorney why this is so bad: there is no department policy, within the highest federal legal agency in the land, that would be allowed to exist if it directly contradicted federal law. For arguments sake, let’s say this policy truly existed like Acosta claims it did. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution states that in the event that a state and federal law are in direct conflict on an issue, the federal law will always supersede the state. This means a federal law would more than certainly take precedent over department policy that has not even been codified. Not only is Acosta’s statement ludicrous, in order for it to be true, it would have to hinge on the premise that he’s an incompetent attorney.

Another misleading statement from Acosta included his emphasis on this being a different time, and seemed to imply that victim shaming was a much larger tool used by powerful, rich men and their attorneys in 2008 as compared to now. This statement is not only grossly inaccurate, it also shows that Acosta is completely unaware of the very real struggles victims have always faced and continue to face. What he’s also trying to imply is that the rise of the #MeToo movement has given us a “guilty until proven innocent” standard that makes prosecuting sex crimes easier. This is also how people opposed to #MeToo and #TimesUp movement attempt to diminish victim’s voices everyday. (Click the Twitter link below to watch the video of Acosta.)

Acosta’s presser plan was clear: blame everyone else and deflect. He even made a point to blame the journalist who was responsible for doing the diligent work he wasn’t willing to do years ago. To say that “the record” that he is misrepresenting here is the only way to truly know what happened is absurd especially considering that Julie Brown relied on the record and emails from his offices to do her reporting, which included finding more victims and bringing the inaccuracies to the forefront.

“One of the things I find interesting is how facts become facts because they’re in a newspaper, as opposed to the record.” -Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta in his Press Conference

Then there is the statement issued yesterday by the Florida state prosecutor in the case who completely rejects what Acosta is trying to sell, where he says, “I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong.” You can read the entire statement here:

All of Alex Acosta’s attempts at smoke and mirrors yesterday were done at the expense of the victims, the media and the public, and I would ask you to think about how many of those are women. He is still refusing to take responsibility for incompetent work. I have no interest in hearing more excuses about why a man with aspirations, who is now a member of the President’s Cabinet, made the choices he made ten years ago-that’s pretty obvious. Anything else from this Administration in defense of Alexander Acosta should be taken for what it is-at best; more spin and at worst; a cover-up.

UPDATE: Alexander Acosta resigned his position as Secretary of Labor on Friday, July 12, 2019.

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Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.