Ensnared in another sex-deviance scandal involving the president of the United States and his pals, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta became the ninth member of the Trump cabinet to depart under a cloud in only 30 months.
That group of culls doesn’t include more than a score of others around the White House or the executive agencies who fled, were forced out or couldn’t get confirmed by the Senate owing to corruption, their hidden pasts, excessive hubris or Trump’s suspicions of disloyalty.
What do all these people — let’s charitably just call them misfits — have in common? One thing plainly: Each was rewarded with the government plums in the first place by Donald Trump, who claimed to have the most unerring judgment of any president in history.
Do we have a corollary here for all these individual judgments of failure? Could it mean that the man who brought every one of them into public service was himself unfit?
The case of Acosta and the depraved sex predator he protected goes to the heart of both Trump’s election and his survival. It’s not complicated; it’s about sex. Absent the modern obsession with sex, Trump would still be a cipher unknown to most Americans, and it may yet be his undoing.
Acosta had to resign when more and more evidence surfaced of his deal — cut while he was the U.S. attorney for South Florida — to let Trump’s old pal, financier Jeffrey Epstein, off with a wrist slap for years and years of sex trafficking with underaged girls and raping them. Eleven years ago, prosecutors and the FBI had turned up 36 victims, who were as young as 13 when Epstein seduced them and who would testify about his predations, but they never got to tell their stories. Acosta worked out a nonprosecution deal with Epstein’s lawyers that if the debaucher would plead no contest to just two charges of soliciting prostitution, do a little work-release time (12 hours a day of cell time) and register as a sex offender he would not have to face all the criminal charges and the recitations of his abominable crimes.
But the case wouldn’t go away because the victims, who were unaware of Acosta’s negotiations with Epstein’s legal team, never got their day in court. Acosta would later insist that he actually wasn’t much personally involved in the negotiations and was “unduly pressured” by Epstein’s heavy-hitting lawyers. You may remember that one of them was Kenneth Starr, the pious litigator who would make a career at the intersection of sex and politics. After a fruitless four-year, $70-million investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton over a land investment in Marion County, Starr’s men held Monica Lewinsky incommunicado without counsel in a Washington hotel room for 12 hours and persuaded her to help them set Clinton up for a perjury charge and impeachment, on the correct assumption that he would try to hide their sexual escapades from his family and the country and, if they could question him under oath, commit perjury. (Perhaps remembering his own role in the Clinton Whitewater prosecutions, Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s deputy attorney general — who was supervising the assorted investigations of Russian meddling and other aspects of corruption by the Trump campaign team — and Attorney General William Barr saw to it that special prosecutor Robert Mueller never put Trump under oath.)
Later, Ken Starr was forced out as the president of Baylor University, then as chancellor and finally as a tenured law professor for soft-pedalling his football players’ rapes of female students.
A reporter asked Starr a few days ago how he had helped the fiendish Epstein get out of trouble. Starr said that was privileged attorney-client information but, when he was pushed, he volunteered, “I was very happy to respond to the needs of a client of the firm.” A client who was a pal of Donald Trump and who paid handsome fees.
When Trump let it be known in 2017 that he was going to appoint the good Republican Alex Acosta labor secretary, the Miami Herald dug up the records on the old Epstein case, which this summer are pouring out in waves of documents. Trump first embraced Acosta and then told him that he had to go quickly to mute sickening evidence that was getting close to him.
Now Epstein has been charged with serial federal crimes and is locked away in a high-security prison so that he cannot flee the country before his trial.
The Epstein-Acosta pickle should take every American back to the darkest and most crucial hours of Trump’s political career, namely the morning of Oct. 6, 2016, one month before the election and two days before his second televised debate with Hillary Clinton. The Washington Post that day divulged the contents of the famous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump in 2006, while his wife Melania was pregnant with their son, bragged to TV host Billy Bush about trying to seduce a married woman and speculated that he might kiss the hostess of the television show who was about to come to their bus and usher him into the NBC studio for their taping. Then came the famous words that panicked people in newsrooms and television studios across the country, most of which had never before used a couple of his words in print or on the air but which were now coming from the lips the next president. Trump said he liked to grab women and kiss them.
“I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
The worst of the tape was rarely printed or played because he bragged about trying to have sex with a married woman whom he apparently had identified to Bush and used the F word.
“I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and f*** her. She was married. And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.’ I took her out furniture — I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her. She’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”
To anyone who had followed Donald Trump’s trajectory from an unsavory and corrupt New York businessman to an international celebrity, it was not surprising. I once followed him in the New York tabloids (the Post and Daily News), which he cultivated so that he would make it into the gossip columns as a rich libertine. He would telephone the papers and claim to be someone named John Miller, a publicist for Trump, and explain the playboy’s extracurricular relationships with beautiful models (while he was married to Ivana or Marla Maples) and then join shock jock Howard Stern on radio and television to talk about sex. Trump would talk about his daughter Ivanka’s perfect breasts and buttocks and Stern would call her “a piece of ass.” All of it propelled Trump from a nervy New York playboy to a reality TV star and ultimately to the White House.
But by the fall of 2016, they were downplaying that aspect of his career. As it became clear that he would win the Republican nomination, they persuaded the future first lady to remove from her Internet website the nude pictures of her on Trump’s jet that he had arranged for British GQ to publish in 2001 under the headline “Sex at 30,000 ft.” Trump said he did it to advance the modeling career of his new girlfriend from Slovenia. The magazine cover showed Melania Knauss lying naked on a fur rug with a diamond bracelet. Inside the magazine, gold handcuffs tethered her to Trump’s gold-plated briefcase in his jet’s cabin. You can buy the magazine on eBay now for $1,000.
The Hollywood tape in October 2016 caused panic. Leading Republicans, including Sen. John McCain and House Speaker Paul Ryan, renounced their support of the nominee. The Hollywood tape emboldened more women to reveal their sexual contacts with Trump. One woman filed a civil lawsuit under the protected name of Jane Doe, claiming that when she was 13 Trump had raped her at a party in Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion in Manhattan. She said Epstein had raped her twice. She had her lawyer withdraw the suit before trial because she said she had been threatened.
The Trump campaign needed a major distraction to the Hollywood tape, and fast. The Russians came through. Within three hours, Julian Assange dumped the emails that Russians had stolen from the Democratic National Committee, which showed that the party had worked quietly in the latter stages of the Democratic primaries to advance the Democrat, Clinton, over Bernie Sanders, the old Socialist Party leader who refused to identify himself as a Democrat. Millions of enraged Sanders voters from the primaries then voted for either Trump or the Green or Libertarian candidates, giving Trump the presidency.
Assange, who is wanted in the United States for espionage, sent the emails from the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he had taken refuge to avoid prosecution for, naturally, sexually assaulting a woman in Sweden.
“I love WikiLeaks!” Trump proclaimed at the time. He called on the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton’s private emails and make them public. The Mueller team this January indicted Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser to Trump, on seven criminal counts of obstruction, witness tampering and perjury. The indictment said Stone, on behalf of the Trump campaign, contacted Assange to get him to release the trove of documents stolen by the Russians before the election. Months before, at a press conference in Miami, Trump publicly called on “Russia, if you’re listening” to get Hillary Clinton’s private emails and make them public.
Alex Acosta was not nearly the worst of Trump’s cabinet choices — he resisted Trump’s repeated efforts to remove the government’s health, safety and environmental protections for workers and the general public — but Acosta was the one who linked Trump to Jeffrey Epstein and his predations. Trump and Epstein were pals who shared a reputation as rich Casanovas. They had nearby playboy mansions in Manhattan and Palm Beach.
Trump now insists that he barely knew the guy and that they had little to do with each other. But a man who seeks publicity for everything he does will someday pay the price. The contradictory evidence always turns up in print or on film or both.
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years — terrific guy,” Trump told the magazine New York in 2002 in an article headlined “Jeffrey Epstein: International Moneyman of Mystery.”
“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.”
Many of them are on the younger side. Trump knew way back then.
Back in 1992, Trump’s lavish Atlantic City casino had flopped, creditors were after him, and his first marriage and then his romance with Miss Georgia, Marla Maples, had collapsed, temporarily in Marla’s case. So, Trump threw a big party at Mar-a-Lago for National Football League cheerleaders and, of course, invited NBC to film and publicize it. There he is, with a leering Jeff Epstein, cavorting with seemingly inebriated cheerleaders. Trump is grabbing one shorts-clad girl around the waist from behind. He points to girls while whispering in Epstein’s ear, and Epstein doubles over in laughter.
NBC used some of the footage on a talk show, where the hostess described Trump’s agreeing to go on the air live after he kissed the news anchor on the lips in front of photographers at a charity dinner in New York — when her husband’s back was turned.
Now comes, with terrible timing, the court-ordered release of the records of telephone calls among Trump, his former personal assistant Hope Hicks, his now-imprisoned fixer and personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and lawyers for Trump’s alleged sexual partners, the porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy pinup Karen McDougal. They show that in the panicky period after the Hollywood tape’s release and before the election the three arranged hush payments — bribes in common parlance — for the women.
But there’s nothing to see here. Boys, after all, will be boys. For much but not most of the country, it’s time to move on.