Alex Acosta did no better Wednesday representing himself than he did representing Jeffrey Epstein's victims.

The labor secretary and former U.S. attorney for South Florida held a news conference in an attempt to save his job. He didn't show that he deserved to keep it.

For more than a decade, Acosta had said nothing publicly about the 2008 agreement he approved that spared Epstein a possible life sentence in federal prison and allowed him to plead guilty to minor state charges.

Acosta spoke only because two days earlier the U.S. attorney in Manhattan had announced an indictment of Epstein on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges from the same period Acosta reviewed. Epstein now could get 45 years.

Incredibly, but not surprisingly, Acosta cast himself as the good guy. Former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer, Acosta said, was "ready to let Epstein walk free, no jail time." Such an outcome, Acosta said, would have been "despicable."

It is true that the FBI — and thus Acosta's office — got the case in 2006 because then-Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter believed that Krischer wanted to go easy on Epstein. After its investigation, Reiter's department believed it had probable cause to charge Epstein with abusing underage girls at his Palm Beach home.

Instead, Krischer secured a state grand jury indictment on just one count of solicitation. The decision so enraged Reiter at the time that he wrote to Krischer, suggesting that the state attorney recuse himself "because of the unusual course that your office's handling of this matter has taken."

Once the FBI got involved, however, Acosta had all the resources of the Justice Department to throw at the Epstein investigation. There were roughly 40 alleged victims. Yet the man who got federal prison time for corrupt politicians in Broward and Palm Beach counties backed down in the case of an alleged sexual predator — for reasons he didn't explain on Wednesday.

And why did he try to keep that federal non-prosecution agreement secret? Why didn't his office tell Epstein's victims about the agreement? A federal judge has ruled that the failure to notify them violated the Crime Victims Right Act.

Well, Acosta shrugged, times are different. We expect more "transparency" now. Attitudes toward victims have changed. And at the time, he said, the Crime Victims Right Act didn't explicitly apply to that agreement.

Again, these are unsatisfactory answers. Transparency and compassion for victims mattered as much 11 years ago as they do now. With Epstein, though, Acosta ignored both.

It took a lawsuit to unseal the non-prosecution agreement — over the objections of Epstein's attorneys. During that fight, a federal prosecutor said, "The parties who negotiated the agreement, the United States Attorney's Office and Jeffrey Epstein, determined that the agreement should remain confidential."

So Acosta cared more about protecting Epstein and himself. He suggested Wednesday that privacy benefited the victims, given the allegations, but the victims themselves wanted the agreement unsealed.

The record shows that Acosta, at the urging of Epstein's attorneys, kept all details of his negotiations from the victims. In ruling that this failure violated the law, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra noted that Acosta's office "never conferred" with the victims during the 10 months of negotiation over the agreement.

Similarly, the victims' lawyers never knew that Epstein's plea to state charges would mean no federal charges. Rebutting Acosta's claim that the victims were reluctant to testify, those lawyers say Acosta's prosecutors had scared the young women with warnings about what could happen if they appeared in court.

Acosta also tried to address his October 2007 breakfast meeting with Epstein attorney Jay Lefkowitz. It happened not at Acosta's office but in West Palm Beach. Acosta said he happened to be there for a speech and dismissed any idea that the meeting was consequential because the agreement was finished.

In fact, Lefkowitz emailed afterward to thank Acosta for his "commitment." He added, "You. . assured me that your office would not ... contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants and the respective counsel in this matter." And work on the agreement continued.

Acosta wanted to sanitize an embarrassment to him and the Trump administration. He wasn't there to address the victims. He was there to perform for President Trump, who will decide whether Acosta keeps his job and who considers apology or accepting responsibility signs of weakness — even when they are justified.

On that point, Acosta may have succeeded. "I thought he did exactly what he wanted to do with the facts, laying out the facts today," White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said. Acosta, however, chose to discuss only the "facts" that might absolve him. He doesn't care about the victims or the truth anymore than he did 11 years ago.
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