Within hours of financier and admitted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein being arrested on new charges of sex trafficking, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta was on extremely thin ice. Acosta, you may recall, gained infamy for crafting a shockingly lenient plea deal in 2008 in which Epstein served only 13 months in prison for soliciting prostitution from teenage girls. Since then, demands for Acosta’s resignation have reached a fever pitch. What is telling, though, is the relative silence on the matter from Republican elected officials.
On paper, this silence comes as a rather unpleasant surprise. After all, the facts are beyond dispute. Federal prosecutors in Miami and West Palm Beach obtained evidence that Epstein paid numerous teenage girls for sexual contact, and also got them to recruit other girls for him. All told, at least 36 victims were identified. On paper, it should have been enough to send Epstein to prison for life.
However, in a deal that can charitably be described as incomprehensible, then-U. S. Attorney Acosta crafted a plea deal that called for Epstein to plead guilty to state charges of soliciting prostitution, serve 13 months in the Palm Beach County jail, and register as a sex offender. In return, Acosta’s office dropped all federal charges and agreed not to prosecute any potential accomplices.
Even if this deal wasn’t illegal–and we now know that it was, since the victims weren’t even given a chance to respond–it breached every standard of decency that is known. So you would think there would have been bipartisan calls for his resignation. But instead, this is what we’ve heard from Republican lawmakers.
That’s right. Radio silence. How can this be? On the face of it, the GOP may be loath to undercut their leader. After all, Donald Trump went on record as saying that he actually has sympathy for Acosta. No, this isn’t snark. Watch here.
Specifically, Trump said that he felt “very badly” for Acosta. Um, Mr. Trump? What about the victims, who were denied justice by this shameful and, as we now know, illegal deal?
But according to a prominent conservative commentator who is also one of the more prominent never-Trumpers, there may be something more to it. Apparently Republican electeds are afraid that if they have to confront the Acosta problem, they won’t be able to avoid the Trump problem.
Peter Wehner, a White House staffer under Reagan and both Bushes, was one of the charter members of the never-Trump club. He declared in January 2016 that he would never even consider voting for Trump, and refused to knuckle under to Trump even after his upset victory. He has remained one of Trump’s staunchest critics on the right. What gives him more credibility is that he is an ardent social conservative; he is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
On Tuesday, Wehner dropped by MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House,” hosted by fellow Bush 43 staffer and fellow never-Trumper Nicolle Wallace for a panel discussion of how Trump handled the Acosta affair. Watch here.
At around the 13-minute mark, Wallace asked Wehner why no Republicans have spoken up to condemn Acosta. Wehner wasn’t surprised that GOP electeds are “nowhere to be found” on this matter. How’s that, you ask?
Remember the context of this. Secretary Acosta is accused of not prosecuting a sexual predator. The president is a sexual predator.
For those keeping score, at least 22 women have come forward to claim that Trump sexually assaulted them. Wehner thought it was “extraordinary” that prominent Republicans have been silent on this matter. However, he believes it is the logical end of their decision to ignore Trump’s outrages. As he put it, “they wrote their fate.”
But that doesn’t make it any less outrageous. Wehner called GOP silence on Acosta “a joke and hypocrisy and just an extraordinary offense,” and blasted them for siding with “rich, powerful men” like Epstein. He believed this silence was an “indictment” on his now-former party.
When you think about it, there is something to Wehner’s argument. How can Republican officials credibly denounce Acosta’s craven behavior without confronting the stomach-churning allegations against their standard-bearer? Having a frank discussion about this issue is difficult at best when substantial elements of your base think Trump’s accusers are either daughters of Satan or shouldn’t be believed because they’re “unattractive.”
That doesn’t make this silence any less staggering, though. It’s a sad day when condemning such craven and cowardly behavior by a prosecutor isn’t a bipartisan matter.
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