In this op-ed, Romper Senior Identity Editor Danielle Campoamor examines why President Trump defended Alex Acosta, his labor secretary who cut a non-prosecution deal for Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago, and how that’s in keeping with a history of defending predatory men and the people who enable them.
The list of people who’ve become the target of President Donald Trump’s ire is as long as it is diverse. From Black NFL players and powerful congresswomen, to Black and Brown women reporters and outspoken professional soccer players, the people who this president has shamelessly attacked is overshadowed by only one other group: the predatory men Trump has happily defended.
On Saturday, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New Jersey and charged with two counts of sex trafficking, as reported by CNN. An unsealed 14-page criminal indictment alleges that from 2002 to 2005, Epstein trafficked underage girls — children — and paid them to perform sex acts on men and to lure other young girls — children — into his so-called enterprise. Epstein has pleaded not guilty.
Epstein avoided similar charges in 2008 thanks to a non-prosecution agreement that had him plead guilty to state-level prostitution charges and serve just 13 months in prison. That was despite that fact that a federal investigation had identified 36 alleged victims who were never told about Epstein’s non-prosecution deal.
The U.S. attorney responsible for that deal was Alexander Acosta, who is now serving as Trump’s labor secretary, a job that involves overseeing some federal anti-trafficking efforts.
In 2002, Trump spoke to New York Magazine about Epstein, saying, "I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” The two longtime friends reportedly had a falling out over a failed business deal, according to The New York Times, and on Tuesday from the Oval Office the president said he "wasn’t a fan" of Epstein. But he also said he feels "very badly" for Acosta.
"I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta because I’ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job," Trump said.
With that defense, Trump skates past the idea that Acosta gave a man accused of trafficking children a pass. Acosta may not have directly harmed any underage girls, but prosecutors found hundreds of photos of nude young women and girls when they raided Epstein’s townhouse Saturday, according to The New York Times, and women continue to contact authorities with allegations against Epstein — so it’s far from clear that the 2008 charges put a stop to Epstein’s alleged misconduct.
Trump’s defense of Acosta in the Epstein situation is in keeping with his long-standing history of protecting, employing, endorsing, and excusing predatory men (all of whom strenuously deny the allegations levied against them) and the people who enable them.
Trump wished former White House aide Rob Porter "well" and said he hoped Porter would go on to have a successful career after he resigned following accusations of domestic violence from two ex-wives. In a tweet about Porter’s resignation, Trump said, "Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?"
Porter isn’t an alleged abuser, according to Trump. He’s just a poor guy whose reputation has been destroyed for no reason.
Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second appointee to the Supreme Court, was accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford and two other women. "Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two [men], and their having fun at my expense," Ford testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee, alleging a second man, Mark Judge, helped Kavanaugh push her onto a bed at a party in the ’80s. But to Trump, who made fun of Ford at a political rally, Kavanaugh isn’t a man credibly accused of attempted attempted rape, but rather "one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting."
Trump also endorsed Roy Moore, a former Alabama state Supreme Court Justice who was accused of sexually assaulting or harassing eight underage girls when he was in his 30s. In November 2017, Trump told reporters, "He says it didn’t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him."
Translation: Moore isn’t an alleged pedophile. He’s just another GOP politician who could help Trump maintain control of the Senate.
And according to Trump, Bill O’Reilly, who allegedly harassed and verbally abused five women to whom his former employer Fox News paid $13 million in settlements, didn’t do "anything wrong." To hear Trump tell it, former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes wasn’t a man who resigned his post amid of sexual harassment accusations, but instead "a very, very good person" vindictively brought down by women who were just "complaining." And when Corey Lewandowski, the president’s one-time campaign manager, was charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly assaulting a reporter in 2016, Trump came to his defense almost immediately, claiming the reporter, Michelle Fields, "made it up," despite the fact that there’s video of Lewandowski "making contact" with Fields.
All of these men have been tied at one point or another to the president, a man himself accused of sexual assault, harassment, and/or rape by at least 17 women — most recently by Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll, who alleges Trump raped her in a Bergdorf’s changing room. Like all these men, the president denies the allegations against him and sees himself as a victim of unfounded claims. According to Trump, the women who made these accusations against him are liars. They’re "too ugly" to harass, assault, or rape. They’re "not his type." They’re opportunists. They’re wrong. He’s right.
When Trump defends predatory men, he’s defending himself. Over, and over, and over again.
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