Justice Dept. faults former Epstein prosecutor for ‘poor judgment’ but finds no misconduct

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By Matt Zapotosky and Beth Reinhard

The Justice Department’s internal disciplinary arm concluded that then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta exhibited “poor judgment” but not “professional misconduct” in approving a generous deal for Jeffrey Epstein to resolve allegations that he molested dozens of young girls years ago, drawing rebukes from victims’ lawyers and even the lead prosecutor on the case.

Officials on Thursday released an executive summary of an investigation into the handling of Epstein’s case, now more than a decade old, and briefed victims and their lawyers on its findings. The Washington Post later obtained a copy of the full report. The summary chastised Acosta’s judgment and acknowledged that Epstein’s victims were treated poorly, but it said investigators did not find evidence that his decision to sign off on the deal “was based on corruption or other impermissible considerations, such as Epstein’s wealth, status, or associations.”

Investigators found no evidence suggesting Epstein was an intelligence asset, as some observers have speculated. The politically connected millionaire, now dead , was known for a highflying lifestyle that included partying with Donald Trump before his election as president and traveling with luminaries such as former president Bill Clinton.

The investigation’s summary also said other prosecutors on the case had not committed professional misconduct. Shortly after its release, Marie Villafaña, who had been the lead line attorney, issued a statement calling the result of Epstein’s case “patently unjust.”

“That injustice, I believe, was the result of deep, implicit institutional biases that prevented me and the FBI agents who worked diligently on this case from holding Mr. Epstein accountable for his crimes,” Villafaña said. “By not considering those implicit biases based on gender and socioeconomic status, OPR [the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility] lost an opportunity to make recommendations for institutional changes that could prevent results like this one from occurring in the future.”

The report casts Villafaña as particularly aggressive in the case — unsuccessfully advising her superiors not to meet with Epstein’s defense attorneys, complaining about victims not being kept in the loop and pushing for Epstein to be accused of violating the terms of his agreement — though it also says her supervisors, including Acosta, offered reasonable legal or strategic reasons for their actions.

Acosta’s lawyer released a lengthy statement saying that had Acosta “known then what he knows now, he certainly would have directed a different path.”

“But as OPR makes clear, neither he nor his staff had the benefit of the record available today to craft their strategy to handle a legally and factually challenging case,” the statement said.

“Alex Acosta’s actions caused emotional trauma for countless minors who deserved to be protected by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and allowed a serial molester to escape accountability,” said Adam Horowitz, one of several attorneys representing Epstein victims who attended Thursday’s briefing at an FBI office in South Florida. “He and his office failed to give notice to victims, misled victims, misinterpreted the law and did not treat the abuse survivors with decency and respect. The mountain of mistakes was not just poor judgment. It was reckless.”

Another attorney for Epstein victims, Paul Cassell, said Associate Deputy Attorney General Stacie Harris told those at the briefing that Acosta’s incoming emails between May 2007 and May 2008 could not be recovered and examined due to a “technical glitch.” That’s the period of time, he said, in which Acosta was weighing the Epstein case. Cassell castigated investigators for not interviewing Epstein’s defense attorneys, who he believes exerted undue influence over federal prosecutors.

“This report is a coverup,” Cassell said. “How can you possibly claim you’ve done a thorough investigation without exploring these issues?”

Read more at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/jeffrey-epstein-alex-acosta-florida-plea-deal/2020/11/12/c960d078-243a-11eb-8672-c281c7a2c96e_story.html

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