Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
While the fallout from the arrest and indictment of financier and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein continues to rattle the administration, President Donald Trump made rambling and tone-deaf remarks on Tuesday about the case and its ties to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta.
Acosta was the U.S. attorney who oversaw a remarkably lenient plea deal Epstein received in 2008 in Florida while facing federal scrutiny for trafficking underage women. A judge has since ruled that the plea deal — which gave Epstein just 13 months in custody, served in a jail that he was reportedly allowed to leave for 12 hours a day, six days a week — violated the law because the victims were not informed.
But in Trump’s telling, Acosta is the victim.
“I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta — because I’ve known him as being somebody who works so hard and has done such a good job,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday. “I feel very badly about that whole situation. But we’re going to be looking at that and looking at it very closely.”
Even for Trump, painting Acosta — whose role in the dubious sentencing remains unexplained — as the victim and ignoring the actual women who were abused was stunningly callous. As callous as he can be, he is typically careful enough to express sympathy for broadly sympathetic victims. But reading into his comments a bit, it seems Trump doesn’t actually care much about Acosta. There’s little reason to think Trump cares anymore about him than he does about anyone else. What Trump really means is that he feels bad for himself, he feels bad that Acosta’s past is reflecting badly on him as president, and he feels bad that the labor secretary has become yet another glaring stain on an outrageously corrupt and conflicted Cabinet.
The White House has previously claimed that it was “looking into” the Epstein case when Acosta’s role came under scrutiny in February. But then, as now, this claim was likely just a stalling tactic to see if the controversy will die down like all the others.
Trump’s other remarks about his own personal ties to Epstein made little sense. He claimed that he knew Epstein “like everybody else in Palm Beach knew him … he was a fixture in Palm Beach.” But then Trump immediately went on to say he had a “falling out” with Epstein, which is hard to understand if Trump only knew him as a prominent figure in the neighborhood. You have a “falling out” with someone you’re close to or have some kind of relationship with, someone you would have reason to fight or disagree with, not just some notable “fixture” in town.
Trump added: “I was not a fan of his. I was not a fan of his.”
Of course, this contradicted a widely cited quote from Trump in New York magazine, which even seems to suggest that he was potentially aware of Acosta’s criminal behavior:
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump booms from a speakerphone. “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.”
Watch the clip below:
Trump tries to backtrack on his characterization of Jeffrey Epstein as "a terrific guy," now says "I don't think I've spoken to him in 15 years. I wasn't a fan." pic.twitter.com/iX1awN0z0I
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 9, 2019