Tuesday Reads: Jeffrey Epstein, Trump, and the Politicized DOJPosted: July 9, 2019
The news is full of Jeffrey Epstein stories; I can only hope that this time his victims will finally get justice. Bill Barr has recused himself from the case, but will that keep Trump and the Justice Department he now controls from helping his old pal Epstein?
Trump Has Politicized the DOJ
Sally Yates tried to warn us. Way back in January 2017, at the end of the very first week of the Trump administration, the new president signed an executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. It was a blatantly political act, following months of Trump campaign promises, and it immediately provoked lawsuits challenging the order as religious discrimination. Yates, the acting attorney general, refused to defend the legally indefensible and was summarily fired. “The president is attempting to dismantle the rule of law, destroy the time-honored independence of the Justice Department, and undermine the career men and women who are devoted to seeking justice day in and day out,” Yates wrote in a New York Times op-ed published in July 2017.
Two Julys later, Trump’s politicization of the DOJ is gaining new momentum and depth. The president’s choice of William Barr as attorney general, and Barr’s entirely predictable attempts to undercut the Mueller report, has been the highest-profile, highest-stakes move to weaponize the department for partisan purposes. But two fresh episodes demonstrate Trump’s relentless push to subvert the DOJ, and how far-reaching the damage will be to the rule of law. First came Sarah Fabian, the senior attorney in the DOJ’s Office of Immigration Litigation, telling a California appeals court that it is “safe and sanitary” for jailed immigrant children to go without soap or toothbrushes and to sleep on concrete floors under bright lights. “I actually felt somewhat sorry for her,” a former federal prosecutor says. “You could hear how half-hearted she was in making the point. But there is no way she would have been making that argument at all without it being approved at the highest levels of DOJ….”
The second, ongoing case echoes the events that got Yates fired. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, after documents from a now deceased Republican consultant’s hard drives were exposed. The census citizenship question, Thomas Hofeller wrote in an analysis, “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” The DOJ announced it would not be fighting the Supreme Court ruling; the Commerce Department announced it would begin printing the census forms without the question in question.
Trump didn’t care. “We are absolutely moving forward,” he declared on Twitter. Which was news to DOJ lawyers, who found themselves fumbling during an emergency conference call with a Maryland district court judge….
After a few more days of confusion, the DOJ said on Friday it would demur from pursuing the case, at least until the Commerce Department “adopts a new rationale for including the citizenship question.” That new spin should arrive very soon. Over the weekend Trump and Barr replaced the DOJ legal team handling the case. Whether the prior group of career lawyers balked at returning to the Supreme Court with a new, possibly untenable argument or whether Barr simply wants fresh minds on the case, the shift was all but unprecedented, and is yet another indication that Trump sees the DOJ as a political tool.
Will Trump find a way to force the DOJ to help Epstein? I think he’s likely to try. Smith concludes:
…it’s hard to imagine Trump won’t try to intercede if the famously independent SDNY—currently back in the headlines for charging billionaire Jeffrey Epstein with sex trafficking—moves to indict one or more of the president’s high-ranking associates. (Epstein has pleaded not guilty.) “The fear is that Trump doesn’t even need to say it out loud anymore, because Barr is so protective of him,” Rocah says. “It would be ridiculously naïve not to be concerned.”
Also recommended from Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: Trump Is Bringing In New Lawyers On The Citizenship Question Case And No One Knows What’s Happening.
Epstein stories to check out
Ken White provides a good backgrounder on the case at The Atlantic: Jeffrey Epstein Is Out of Luck.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, famously aggressive in pursuing high-profile prosecutions, charged Epstein last week with child sex trafficking in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1591. These new charges represent the Department of Justice’s attempt to redeem a reputation soiled by the extremely questionable plea deal it gave Epstein in 2008.
In 2006 and 2007, Epstein— once a reliable companion of the well-connected — faced extensive, detailed allegations that he paid multiple minors for sexual contact and for their services in procuring other minors. Most people, hammered with that kind of evidence, would spend the rest of their lives in prison. But Epstein could afford the lavish attention of a defense team staffed by legal luminaries like Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr. Most of us hope an attorney will defend us competently at trial, but the super-rich can afford to go on the offense. Epstein’s lawyers hounded the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, which was considering federal charges based on reports that Epstein procured underaged girls across state lines. Former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta – now President Trump’s Secretary of Labor – characterized it as a “year-long assault on the prosecution and prosecutors,” and complained that Epstein’s team investigated prosecutors and their families “looking for personal peccadilloes that may provide a basis for disqualification.”
The strategy worked. Epstein’s team secured the deal of the millennium, one utterly unlike anything I’ve seen in 25 years of practicing federal criminal law. Epstein agreed to plead guilty to state charges, register as a sex offender, and spend 13 months in county jail, during which time he was allowed to spend 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, out of the jail on “work release.” In exchange, the Southern District of Florida abandoned its criminal investigation of Epstein’s conduct, agreed not to prosecute him federally, and – incredibly— agreed not to prosecute anyone else who helped him procure underaged girls for sex. This is not normal; it is astounding.
Read the rest at the link.
Barbara McQuade at New York Magazine: The Jeffrey Epstein Case Shows What Sex Trafficking Really Looks Like.
When jurors hear “sex trafficking,” they conjure up images of victims bound by chains, subjected to physical force and imprisonment. While some cases include those aggravating facts, more often, the victim instead chooses to stay with her assailant, who preys upon a vulnerability. Defendants recruit victims in a variety of ways and then force them to engage in sex acts with them or with paying customers. Jurors are sometimes persuaded that if the defendant was truly engaging in sex trafficking, the victim would have simply run away or called the police.
As a former federal prosecutor, I have seen cases of sex trafficking, and none of those cases involved victims in ropes or chains. More often, the cases involved runaways, undocumented immigrants, or victims of sexual abuse.
A high-profile case like Epstein’s provides a teachable moment for American jurors. The indictment notes that some of his victims returned to his home to perform sex acts for money, even after they knew full well what was in store for them. The indictment also notes that the victims were “for various reasons, particularly vulnerable to exploitation.” That is the secret sauce of sex trafficking….
Sex trafficking is particularly egregious when it involves children, as in Epstein’s case. Children by definition are unable to consent to sex. In Epstein’s case, girls were lured to his home for sex with promises of hundreds of dollars and the prospect of modeling careers — offers that can be head-spinning and irresistible for a young teen.
One of the reasons that we prosecute crimes is to deter others from committing similar acts. By seeing criminals punished for wrongdoing, others learn from their example. Another potential benefit of the Epstein case is to educate the public that not all victims of sex trafficking are found in chains. Here is hoping that jurors will learn from this example.
Read the whole thing at The Intelligencer.
Vicky Ward (who researched and wrote an in-depth piece about Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003) at The Daily Beast: Jeffrey Epstein’s Sick Story Played Out for Years in Plain Sight.
For almost two decades, for some nebulous reason, whether to do with ties to foreign intelligence, his billions of dollars, or his social connections, Epstein, whose alleged sexual sickness and horrific assaults on women without means or ability to protect themselves is well-known in his circle, remained untouchable.
As many people know, I spent many months on his trail in 2002 for Vanity Fair and discovered not only that he was not who he claimed to be professionally, but also that he had allegedly assaulted two young sisters, one of whom had been underage at the time. Very bravely, they were prepared to go on the record. They were afraid he’d use all his influence to discredit them—and their fear turned out to be legitimate.
As the article was being readied for publication, Epstein made a visit to the office of Vanity Fair’s then-editor, Graydon Carter, and suddenly the women and their allegations were removed from the article. “He’s sensitive about the young women,” Carter told me at the time. He also mentioned he’d finagled a photograph of Epstein in a swimsuit out of the encounter. And there was also some feeble excuse about the article “being stronger as a business story.” (Epstein had also leaned heavily on my ex-husband’s uncle, Conrad Black, to try to exert his influence on me, which was particularly unwelcome, given that Black happened to be my ex-husband’s boss at the time.)
But much worse was to come from Epstein’s army of willfully blind lobbyists. In 2007 and 2008, as the FBI prepared a 53-page indictment that would charge Epstein with sex crimes, Epstein’s powerful legal team played the influence card.
After one meeting with then-U.S. Attorney Acosta, where presumably “intelligence” was mentioned, the indictment was shelved and, instead, Epstein signed a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, pleading guilty to one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of procurement of minors for prostitution, which earned him a cushy 13 months in county jail, from where he was allowed to leave to work at his office and go for walks.
It’s worth reading the whole thing.
More helpful Epstein stories, links only
The New York Times: Seized Photos of Nude Girls Deepens Questions About Jeffrey Epstein’s 2008 Deal.
The Washington Post: Epstein indictment renews questions about earlier case handled by Trump Cabinet official.
Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: Alex Acosta gave a pass to Epstein years ago. He’s still at it as labor secretary.
Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: Jeffrey Epstein Is the Ultimate Symbol of Plutocratic Rot.
What else is happening? What stories have you been following?