Nel's New Day

July 12, 2019

Acosta Gone, Barr Protects DDT

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta failed to survive the scandal surrounding the Acosta’s extremely light sentence for Jeffrey Epstein when he was a U.S. AG in Florida over a decade ago. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) announced Acosta’s “resignation” today, effective in a week. For DDT, it’s a win-win: he looks tough, and he can put in an acting secretary who will be far harder against labor than Acosta has been. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney wanted Acosta gone to get rid of more regulations.

DDT, the man who promised to “drain the swamp,” has the most Cabinet secretaries lost to corruption and other ethics concerns during the first term of any presidency, showing his nepotism, self-dealing, lax oversight, and choice of lobbyists who oppose the policies of their agencies. Ronald Reagan had some struggles: his EPA director Anne Gorsuch, a Supreme Court justice’s mother, was found in contempt of Congress for refusal to release records about Superfund money misuse, and his interior secretary James Watt mocked diversity in a U.S. chamber of Commerce speech and lied about his influence-peddling as a lobbyist. Acosta makes the fifth “resigned” Cabinet secretary from ethics issues, joining Tom Price (HHS), Scott Pruitt (EPA), David Shulkin (VA), and Ryan Zinke (Interior). DDT’s replacements for the four are all former lobbyists or corporate executives for the industries they now oversee. Other appointments have been withdrawn because of more ethics problems: Andy Puzder (Labor) for labor violations and spousal abuse; and Ronny Jackson (VA) for misconduct and mismanagement. Another remaining three Cabinet members—Ben Carson (HUD), Elaine Chao (Transportation), and David Bernhardt (Interior)—face ethical problems.  

Acosta’s replacement, deputy secretary Patrick Pizzella who was former lobbyist for overseas sweatshops, will add to DDT’s stable of ethically-challenged lobbyists in his Cabinet. In the late 1990s, he worked with Jack Abranoff, whose 21 convictions led to reforms in lobbying laws, for a Russian front group, the government of the Marshall Islands, and a trade association opposing a minimum wage in a U.S. commonwealth. 

The DOJ is still protecting DDT in the case of his friend, hedge fund billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, again arrested for sex trafficking after DDT’s Labor Secretary Alex Costa, then U.S. AG in Florida, let Epstein off in 2008. Or maybe DDT is protecting himself; in 2016, the BBC released a documentary accusing DDT of “predatory” behavior toward teenage girls, some underage, by model Barbara Pilling. In an earlier court filing, Epstein said, “I want to set up my modeling agency the same way Trump set up his modeling agency.” More support for Epstein has come from DDT’s DOJ. The involvement of AG Bill Barr to exonerate Epstein could indicate wrongdoing by DDT. More background on Epstein.

Barr’s recusal from the Epstein case didn’t last long. Originally recusing himself from the New York sex trafficking case because of his work at the law firm Kirkland and Ellis lawyer representing Epstein, Barr changed his mind and will only recuse himself from an investigation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s involvement in Epstein’s Florida plea deal. At least for now. He has said nothing about his family connection with Epstein. In 1973, Barr’s father hired Epstein, then 20 and without any college degree, to teach calculus and physics teacher at the prestigious Dalton School. Epstein went on to amass a fortune under the mentorship of a student’s father, Bear Stearns’ chairman Alan “Ace” Greenberg, and Barr’s father, Donald Barr, resigned a year later under pressure from the school’s board of trustees after Headmaster Barr morphed a “humanistic, progressive” school into one with “discipline and authoritarian rule.” The headmaster was irritated by the board’s hiring an outside committee to evaluate the school and its operation.

Epstein is surrounded by many of the rich and famous: Prince Andrew; Woody Allen; Mort Zuckerman, owner and publisher of the U.S. News and World Report who partnered with Epstein to develop the gossip publication Radar; Leslie Wexner, the chairman of Limited Brands which owns lingerie store Victoria’s Secret; Ken Starr, who led the impeachment of Bill Clinton and played a “significant part” in Epstein’s plea deal; and Larry Summers, former Harvard president and secretary of the treasury. Woody Allen’s play Manhattan, released a few years after Epstein left Dalton, is about an affair between a 17-year-old Dalton school student and an older man.

Questioning people wonder if DDT told Barr to unrecuse himself as he did with AG Jeff Sessions about the Russia investigation and Hillary Clinton issues. Another reason for Barr to withdraw his recusal is DDT’s interest in using Bill Clinton’s ties to Epstein for campaign fodder, something that Barr can more easily do if he doesn’t recuse himself. DDT may have other involvements in the case against Epstein.

In Acosta’s secret arrangement with Epstein, victims were not notified about plea agreement, and an email from Jay Lefkowitz, Epstein, thanked Acosta for not telling them. In February 2019, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the government’s agreement violated federal law, specifically the “Crime Victims’ Rights Act,” which could nullify the 2008 settlement. The judge also asked that Acosta apologize; he has not publicly commented on the case, even during his resignation comments.  

As Labor Secretary, Acosta drastically cut funding from his agency to fight sexual exploitation of children from $68 million to $18.5 million. He also tried to cover his support for Epstein by asking women to come forward, and 14 women have accused Epstein of sexual assault and sex trafficking since he was arrested on July 6. Federal prosecutors revealed that he paid $350,000 to two people days after a published investigation in a Miami newspaper last November to buy off possible witnesses, one of them a co-conspirator in the deal that Epstein made. Defense lawyers are trying to get Epstein released on bail with the claim that he has been law-abiding for 14 years.

Earlier when  Epstein pled not guilty, his defense lawyer Reid Weingarten asked for bail because there was no rape: “no violence, no coercion, no intimidation, no deception.” Answering the judge about the girls being under 18, Weingarten said that would make it “statutory rape” before he claimed he was having a “senior moment,” that lack of penetration would not constitute rape at all. He also complained that it was only “prostitution,” not “sex trafficking,” although girls were transported from Florida to New York. Epstein is staying in jail without bail until July 15.

Acosta’s slap on Epstein’s wrist may be used against Epstein in his upcoming prosecution. Juries usually cannot hear about a defendant’s prior convictions, but one exception to this rule is criminal cases involving “child molestation.” As part of his Florida agreement, Epstein pled guilty to a state charge of solicitation of minors to engage in prostitution. Prosecutors may be able to use the legal trove of documentary evidence found in his Manhattan apartment—notes, call records between Epstein and his accomplices with victims, and “an extraordinary volume of photographs of nude and partially nude young women or girls.”

The New Yorker Magazine reported that Epstein’s “business” might be a blackmail scheme implicating many of his friends. A billionaire hedge-fund manager said that he knew no one who had investigated in Epstein’s so-called hedge funds.

In another effort to protect DDT, Barr plans to investigate the FBI’s investigation of Russian collusion in the 2016 election. Barr presented this political question, throwing it out like red meat to DDT supporters:

“How did the bogus narrative begin that Trump was essentially in cahoots with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election?”

The FBI had credible evidence that led to suspicions and questions—no “bogus” and no “narrative.” From the Washington Post:

“This is a guy who sounds like he developed strong feelings long ago—before, even he has admitted, he was privy to all the information—that the collusion investigation was unfounded and launched for suspicious purposes. And his commentary to this day is consistently uncharitable to the law enforcement personnel who serve beneath him. We didn’t need another reason to question Bill Barr and the integrity of his work, but he’s given us one anyway.”

Afraid of special investigator Robert Mueller testifying before the House, Barr is smearing the process and encouraging special investigator Mueller to back out of his appearance on July 17. Barr has failed: Mueller postponed his appearance before the House committee for a week in order to allow more time for questioning.

DOJ investigators interviewed Christopher Steele, the former British spy who prepared the dossier that DDT’s supporters falsely claimed instigated the Robert Mueller probe, for 16 hours last month and found his testimony credible and surprising. Steele’s hiring by Fusion GPS developed out of a attempt, initially contracted by conservative political website The Washington Free Beacon, to obtain opposition research on DDT and other Republican presidential candidates to benefit candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). According to DOJ investigators—who were looking for dirt on Dems—Steele provided new and important information that fails to support Barr’s desire to smear the FBI.

DDT may further protect himself by getting rid of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, one of the few ethical official left in the administration, “sooner rather than later.” Although DDT can’t get rid of the office, he wants to “downsize” it. A possible replacement is Fred Fleitz, former chief of staff to John Bolton. A rabid Islamophobe, Fleitz is president and CEO for the far-right, anti-Muslim “think tank,” the conspiratorial Center for Security Policy. Fleitz believes that mosques are responsible for over 80 percent of U.S. violence and subversion.

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