BEHIND ACOSTA’S RESIGNATION: UNTANGLING JEFFREY EPSTEIN’S TANGLED WEB: HIGH-POWERED LAWYERS, TRUMP, AND A PERSONAL SAFE

[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.)

VIDEO CLIP: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tape-shows-donald-trump-jeffrey-epstein-discussing-women-1992-party-n1030686

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:

VIDEO CLIP: https://twitter.com/joshtpm/status/1148634240441098240

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:

VIDEO CLIP: https://twitter.com/joshtpm/status/1149037094653898752

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.

 

BEHIND ACOSTA’S RESIGNATION: UNTANGLING JEFFREY EPSTEIN’S TANGLED WEB – PART I

[This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on July 15, 2019]

Alex Acosta is no longer Secretary of Labor, but Jeffrey Epstein’s cloud will never leave him.

From 1999 to 2007, Epstein lured dozens of girls — some as young as 14 — to his Palm Beach residence where he and friends sexually abused them. After a Palm Beach County grand jury indicted him on charges relating to one of his minor victims, Epstein signed a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) with the US attorney’s office for the southern district of Florida. The agreement immunized him from federal charges relating to all of Epstein’s other victims. At the time, Acosta was in charge of that office.

By the time the NPA was finalized, Acosta already knew that the Epstein case involved dozens more young girls. He was nevertheless personally involved in negotiations with Epstein’s attorneys that resolved all charges with these key points:

  • In return for pleading guilty to one state count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of soliciting minors to engage in prostitution, Epstein got a light sentence and complete immunity from federal prosecution. He also had to register as a sex offender.
  • Any “potential co-conspirators” also got immunity.
  • The agreement would remain confidential.

Only the dogged reporting of The Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown, kept Epstein’s deal from becoming just another untold story about America’s special system of criminal justice for the rich. Instead, Epstein faces a new round of sex trafficking charges brought by the US attorney for Manhattan.

The legal trigger for new scrutiny of the 2007 NPA is the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (2004), which became law when Acosta was assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division for President George W. Bush. The law requires that a prosecutor who decides not to prosecute a sex offender must notify all known victims. The purpose of the law is to protect victims’ rights and ensure their involvement in the criminal justice process. In Epstein’s case, that didn’t happen in time to stop the deal.

At a July 10, 2019 press conference, Acosta defended the NPA. “Facts are being overlooked,” he complained. So let’s look at them.

The Crime Scandal

1999-2007: Epstein sexually abuses more than 30 minor girls at his Palm Beach mansion and other residences, according to a federal court’s later findings.

2005-2006: After a complaint from the parents of a 14-year-old girl that Epstein had sexually abused her, Palm Beach County police identify approximately 20 minor girl victims and ask the FBI to investigate. As a potential federal case, it comes under the jurisdiction of US attorney for the southern district of Florida, Alex Acosta.

2006: A Florida state grand jury indicts Epstein on a state charge of soliciting prostitution. It involves only one girl and does not disclose that she is a minor. Epstein hires a legal defense team that eventually includes Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, as well as Kirkland & Ellis partners Ken Starr and Jay Lefkowitz.

May 2007: Prosecutors in Acosta’s office draft a 53-page indictment identifying 12 of Epstein’s victims.

The Plea Agreement Scandal

Sept. 24, 2007: After prosecutors in Acosta’s office exchange multiple drafts with Epstein’s attorneys, Epstein signs the NPA. But he doesn’t appear before the state court to enter a plea pursuant to that agreement until June 30, 2008. In the interim, Acosta and prosecutors in his office negotiate with Epstein’s attorneys — including Starr and Lefkowitz — over the substance and timing of a victim notification letter. Epstein’s attorneys also seek review of the case at a “higher level” within the Justice Department to determine whether federal prosecution is appropriate at all.

Oct. 12, 2007: Lefkowitz and Acosta meet for breakfast. Lefkowitz follows up with a letter to Acosta stating, “I also want to thank you for the commitment you made to me during our October 12 meeting in which you … assured me that your Office would not … contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses, or potential civil claimants and their respective counsel in this matter.”

Nov. 29, 2007: After a prosecutor in Acosta’s office informs Lefkowitz that the office has a statutory obligation to notify Epstein’s victims about the plea deal, Lefkowitz sends Acosta a letter objecting to a proposed victim notification letter. He states that no letter should be sent to the victims before Epstein enters his plea or has been sentenced. Lefkowitz also says that the victims should not be invited to the state sentencing or encouraged to contact law enforcement officials.

Jan. 10, 2008: The FBI sends letters to Epstein’s victims stating, “This case is currently under investigation. This can be a lengthy process and we request your continued patience while we conduct a thorough investigation.” The letters don’t mention that the NPA will bar Acosta’s office from prosecuting Epstein federally.

 June 30, 2008: Federal prosecutors had identified 31 individuals “whom it was prepared to name in an indictment” as Epstein’s victims and the deputy attorney general had determined that federal prosecution of Epstein was appropriate. Pursuant to the NPA, he pleads guilty to two state charges: one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of solicitation of prostitution with a minor under the age of 18.

Epstein then serves a 13-month sentence in a private wing of a Palm Beach jail and is allowed to leave 12 hours a day, six days a week, to work out of a nearby office.

Why did Acosta let this happen?

That’s the subject of Part II.