The Daily 202: As Alex Acosta resigns, the #MeToo reckoning continues

THE BIG IDEA: More women are choosing to come forward with accounts of sexual assault, and many authorities appear to be taking such allegations more seriously than they once did. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s resignation this morning is another data point of how far society has come since the #MeToo movement began. But several stories this week have also laid bare some of the persisting systemic challenges in combating what advocates call rape culture. There are daily reminders of how much still has not changed both at home and abroad.

— Acosta stepped down in the face of mounting scrutiny over his role in negotiating a 2008 deal with Jeffrey Epstein that allowed the financier to plead guilty to lesser offenses in a sex trafficking case. “I don’t think it’s right or fair to have this administration’s labor department have Epstein be the focus instead of the incredible economy we have today,” Acosta said on the White House lawn. “It would be selfish for me to stay in the position and continue talking about a case that is 12 years old.”

Standing at his side, Trump emphasized that the decision to resign was made by Acosta and that he was not fired. “This was him, not me,” the president said. “I said to Alex, ‘You don’t have to do this.’”

— Acosta tried to save his job with a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, but the reality turned out to be much more complicated than the version of events he outlined. Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, Kimberly Kindy and Renae Merle reported last night: “Current and former law enforcement officials expressed concerns about the number of unusual decisions made in Epstein’s favor more than a decade ago. Court documents show that Acosta’s office was amenable to the demands of Epstein’s defense team even as it kept Epstein’s alleged victims in the dark. And where Acosta would not bring a federal case, federal prosecutors in New York did — on the basis of at least some of the same allegations and evidence that Acosta was considering.

Acosta said during his news conference that his office intervened in the early 2000s to make sure Epstein would be jailed after a grand jury convened by the Palm Beach County state attorney recommended a single charge that would have resulted in no jail time and no requirement that Epstein register as a sex offender. Former Palm Beach County state attorney Barry Krischer disputed that version of events, saying Acosta’s ‘recollection of this matter is completely wrong.’ … And Acosta’s characterization is somewhat undercut by internal Justice Department emails that became part of the public court record in subsequent lawsuits. Those messages show some coordination between federal prosecutors and the Palm Beach County state attorney. They also show a prosecutor in Acosta’s office, A. Marie Villafana, acceding to demands from Epstein’s attorneys not to inform alleged victims that the federal criminal investigation had been settled with a non-prosecution agreement.”

— Meanwhile, at least a dozen new victims have come forward since the weekend to claim they were sexually abused by Epstein, according to the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown and David Smiley, “even as the multimillionaire money manager tries to convince a federal judge to allow him to await a sex trafficking trial from the comfort of the same $77 million Manhattan mansion where he’s accused of luring teenage girls into unwanted sex acts. Following Epstein’s arrest Saturday in New Jersey, four women have reached out to New York lawyer David Boies, and at least 10 other women have approached other lawyers who have represented dozens of Epstein’s alleged victims in the past. Jack Scarola, a Palm Beach attorney, said at least five women, all of whom were minors at the time of their alleged encounters with Epstein, have reached out to either him or Fort Lauderdale lawyer Brad Edwards.”