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Republicans Want DOJ to Probe Sex Abuse Case ‘Sweetheart’ Deal

Jan. 15, 2019, 11:32 PM

Two Republicans want the Justice Department to investigate a decade-old plea deal in which Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta allegedly helped an accused sex offender skirt the harshest punishment for crimes against teens.

Sens. Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) pressed attorney general nominee William Barr to conduct a “full and thorough” investigation of the deal that allowed Miami hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein to avoid federal sex trafficking charges. They didn’t specifically mention Acosta, but any probe would likely center on the former South Florida prosecutors’ lead role in the agreement, which landed Epstein behind bars for 13 months on lesser charges.

“The fact the federal prosecutors appear to have crafted this secret sweetheart deal for a child rapist obviously enrages moms and dads everywhere,” Sasse told Barr during a Jan. 15 confirmation hearing.

A November Miami Herald report on the Epstein case has renewed public attention to the allegations against Epstein, who was accused of running a teen sex ring out of his Florida home. It’s also brought new criticism to Acosta, who as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida is said to have helped orchestrate the agreement.

That scrutiny could limit Acosta’s next career moves. The former National Labor Relations Board member and law school dean is widely believed to be interested in a federal judge seat.

“For more than a decade, this prosecution has been reviewed in great detail by newspaper articles, television reports, books, and Congressional testimony,” a Labor Department spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law. “Department of Justice leadership, likewise, reviewed the matter at the time, and the Department has continued to defend the Southern District of Florida’s actions across three administrations and several attorneys general on the grounds that the actions taken were in accordance with Department practices, procedures, and the law.”

Acosta in a 2011 letter said he was brought into the case because local police officers were concerned that state prosecutors would let Epstein off easy. He said the deal was reached after Epstein’s lawyers launched “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors” that was “more aggressive than which I, or any of the prosecutors in my office, had previously encountered.”

Investigation Calls Mounting

The new calls for a probe follow House Democrats’ request that the DOJ’s inspector general look into the case. That group is waiting to see what the agency’s watchdog does before launching its own hearings and investigation.

Lawmakers were aware of the Epstein deal during Acosta’s labor secretary confirmation process. Sasse and Graham—along with eight Democrats and one Independent—voted to confirm Acosta at the time.

Barr told Sasse that he may have to sit out any DOJ probe because a lawyer from his firm, Kirkland & Ellis, was part of an all-star Epstein defense team that also included Harvard University professor Alan Dershowitz, former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, and famed criminal defense attorney Roy Black.

Sasse said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is set to soon leave the department, has been looking into potential conflicts that could keep other DOJ officials from working on the investigation.

“Those of us who have been pressing on this matter have found in different parts of the department a lot of anxiety about the way this was handled and yet kind of a hot potato of a bunch of people thinking they’re not responsible,” Sasse said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at