Five different members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet were ensnared in scandals this week, most notably Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who previously declined to prosecute Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire accused of molesting dozens of underage girls over the last two decades.
On Thursday, a judge ruled in the favor of two of Epstein’s alleged victims who filed a lawsuit in 2008, claiming Acosta and other prosecutors violated a federal law that gives victims the right to be notified of potential plea agreements. Epstein had taken a plea deal around that same time, admitting to one state count of soliciting prostitution from underage girls, but the two alleged victims say they were never told of that deal and were led to believe their claims were still being investigated.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department opened an investigation into the allegations that attorneys with the Southern District of Florida “may have committed professional misconduct,” according to CNN. That investigation was prompted by a Miami Herald report last November which included “videotaped interviews with some of Epstein’s victims,” Politico reported.
U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra called the misconduct unacceptable.
“When the Government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading,” Marra wrote. “While the Government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the NPA with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims. Instead, the victims were told to be ‘patient’ while the investigation proceeded.”
The news prompted ethics experts to call for Acosta’s resignation.
#AlexAcosta should immediately resign as Trump’s Secretary of Labor. A federal court has found him guilty of violating the Victim Rights Act, disgracefully treating #JeffreyEpstein’s child victims as disposable. Sadly, Acosta fits well in Trump’s cabinet but he’s unfit to serve. https://t.co/vGLW2aX08F
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) February 22, 2019
“[Acosta] should immediately resign,” government ethics expert Laurence Tribe tweeted Friday, adding that Acosta “disgracefully” treated Epstein’s victims as “disposable.”
This was serious professional misconduct in federal office. Secretary Acosta should resign.
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) February 22, 2019
“This was serious professional misconduct in federal office,” Richard Painter, who worked as an ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, said Thursday night.
The White House has reacted carefully to the news, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stating Friday that officials were “looking into” the matter and calling it a “very complicated case.”
Acosta is hardly alone, however: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and Heather Nauert, Trump’s former pick for U.N. ambassador, have also been consumed by scandal in recent days — and the sheer volume and pace of those revelations have been nearly overwhelming, experts say.
“The pace and seriousness of these scandals is anything but normal,” Tribe said in an email to ThinkProgress Friday. “It’s truly unprecedented. No presidential administration in U.S. history has been so ensnared in scandal.”
Last Saturday, Nauert withdrew from consideration to be the next U.N. ambassador after her background check revealed that she failed to pay taxes on time and hired a nanny who didn’t have proper work authorization.
“I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary Pompeo for the trust they placed in me for considering me for the position of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,” Nauert said in a statement. “However, the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration.”
Before joining the State Department, Nauert was a host on Fox & Friends. Trump announced that he planned to nominate Nauert to the U.N. post in December after then-ambassador Nikki Haley resigned in October, but he had not yet officially sent Nauert’s nomination to the Senate.
On Tuesday, the Office of Government Ethics reported that Ross violated his ethics agreement and submitted an inaccurate financial disclosure, in which he said that he had sold bank stock that other reports reveal he had not actually sold.
Ross has denied that he violated the agreement.
“Yet another cabinet member flunks ethics,” Painter tweeted later, responding to the news. “This is getting tiresome.”
Yet another cabinet member flunks ethics.
This is getting tiresome.
Wilbur Ross' financial disclosure rejected by federal ethics agency https://t.co/ZVVbA6X2xa
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) February 20, 2019
News also broke Tuesday that Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), coordinated with McConnell and held more than 10 meetings requested by her husband with politicians and business leaders in their home state of Kentucky, Politico reported.
In some cases, those people who met with Chao at McConnell’s request received in different cases infrastructure grants, an interstate highway designation, and assistance getting state funds from Chao’s office.
And on Wednesday, House Democrats said they believed the Trump administration tried to interfere in their investigation of DeVos’ decision to reinstate an accreditor of for-profit colleges by trying to get rid of the Education Department’s acting inspector general.
The department has denied any wrongdoing. On Tuesday, spokeswoman Liz Hill told NBC News, “These claims are simply untrue and don’t match the actual sequence of events. The Department of Education, under Secretary DeVos’s leadership, would never seek to undermine the independence of the Inspector General. For anyone to insinuate otherwise is doing so with no basis in fact and purely for political gain.”
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