[This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on July 21, 2019]
In 2006, Jeffrey Epstein faced serious criminal charges related to sex abuse of minor girls. He tapped Jay Lefkowitz, a nationally prominent commercial litigator at one of the nation’s top law firms, to be a key point person in dealing with then-US Attorney Alex Acosta. Lefkowitz is not a criminal defense lawyer. But he and Acosta shared an earlier connection that may have made him a uniquely valuable member of Epstein’s team: the Kirkland & Ellis law firm.
From 1995 to 1997, Acosta had been an associate in Kirkland’s Washington DC office, where Lefkowitz was and still is a partner. The fact that Lefkowitz and Acosta were once colleagues at the same law firm doesn’t mean either of them did anything wrong when they were on opposite sides of the Epstein case.
Attorney General William Barr has a Kirkland connection too. He was of counsel to the firm in 2009, and then again from 2017 until 2019. He acknowledged that it could affect his role in the Epstein case:
Jan. 15, 2019: At Barr’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) asks him whether he will follow-up on the Miami Herald’s recent investigative reporting on Epstein’s “sweetheart” plea deal. Barr says he has been advised to recuse himself from matters involving his former firm, Kirkland & Ellis. “I need to sort out exactly what my role can be,” he adds.
February 2019: The Justice Department’s office of professional responsibility opens an investigation “into allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved.” Barr recuses himself from that investigation.
Later that month, a Florida federal court rules that Acosta’s office violated federal law by failing to inform Epstein’s victims about the negotiations not to prosecute him. The court concludes: “Epstein’s counsel was aware that the Office was deliberately keeping the NPA [non-prosecution agreement] secret from the victims and, indeed, had sought assurances to that effect.“ (The events leading to that conclusion are described in Part I of this series.)
July 2, 2019: A federal grand jury in New York indicts Epstein for sex trafficking that involves victims as young as 14. Three days later, the FBI executes a search warrant at his New York townhouse and discovers a cache of photos, some of which are in a locked safe that also contains CDs with labels such as “Girl pics nude.” The safe also contains $70,000 in cash, 48 loose diamonds, and an Austrian passport with his photo and a fake name.
Barr does not recuse himself from the New York case.
Lurking in the Background: Trump
1992: At Trump’s request, a Florida-based businessman arranges an exclusive “calendar girl” competition at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. The participants are 28 women and only two men — Trump and Epstein. (NBC found a tape in its archives of the Trump and Epstein dancing with cheerleaders at Mar-a-Lago in November 1992.)
2002: Donald Trump tells New York Magazine, “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
July 9, 2019: Trump comments on the Epstein situation:
July 12, 2019: Acosta resigns as Secretary of Labor. Standing next to him, Trump says, “He doesn’t have to do this.” Trump adds that he “was not a fan of Jeffrey Epstein” and kicked him out of Mar-a-Lago: “It shows you one thing — that I have good taste.”
Acosta Lost His Battle Against the Facts
At his July 10, 2019 press conference, Acosta cast himself as a hero for not letting Epstein “walk.” He applauded New York prosecutors for pursuing the latest charges against Epstein. But in that case, Epstein’s lawyers are using unusual language in the NPA to argue that the government resolved all sex-related charges that any US attorney in every federal jurisdiction could ever file against him for offenses through September 2007, including the New York charges that Acosta is now championing publicly.
Acosta told reporters that the current controversy arose because “facts are being overlooked.” His real problem was the narrative resulting from close attention to some very bad ones. And now he’s out of a job.
A Curious Footnote
According to reporting by The Daily Beast, Trump’s transition team had asked Acosta if the Epstein case would cause any problems for his confirmation as labor secretary. He said that he had cut the deal with one of Epstein’s attorneys because he’d been told to “back off” — that Epstein was above his pay grade: “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone.”
At his July 10 press conference, a reporter asked him whether he was ever told that Epstein was an “intelligence asset of some sort.” Acosta dissembled:
Which takes us back to the photos, cash, diamonds, and the Austrian passport that the FBI found in Epstein’s safe. At his July 15 bail hearing, federal prosecutors cited the passport among many reasons that Epstein posed a serious flight risk and should not be released pending trial.
The following day, his attorneys wrote to the judge, “[I]t expired 32 years ago. And the government offers nothing to suggest — and certainly no evidence — that Epstein ever used it.”
Federal prosecutors responded, “In fact, the passport contains numerous ingress and egress stamps, including stamps that reflect use of the passport to enter France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.”
“The Government further notes that the defendant’s submission does not address how defendant obtained the foreign passport and, more concerning, the defendant still has not disclosed to the Court whether he is a citizen or legal resident of a country other than the United States.”
There’s much more to the Jeffrey Epstein story. It continues in the next installment of this series. Part I is available here.