Melinda Henneberger

For Jeffrey Epstein’s society pals, exploited kids were no reason to miss a party

Where are they now? The biggest players in the Jeffrey Epstein case

The girls who were abused by Jeffrey Epstein and the cops who championed their cause remain angry over what they regard as a gross injustice, while Epstein's employees and those who engineered his non-prosecution agreement have prospered.
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The girls who were abused by Jeffrey Epstein and the cops who championed their cause remain angry over what they regard as a gross injustice, while Epstein's employees and those who engineered his non-prosecution agreement have prospered.

When your boss President Donald Trump says he feels “very badly” for your “whole situation,” it’s time to start packing up the office.

To the surprise of no one, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta picked up on this cue and resigned on Friday over his white-glove, hey-Jeff-how-can-I-help handling of the Palm Beach pedophile and alleged trafficker of underage girls, Jeffrey Epstein.

The president, who in 2002 called Epstein a great guy whose girlfriends were “on the younger side,” haha, said on Friday that he’d had a falling out with him years ago. In his mind, this rupture “shows you one thing — that I have good taste.” He did not say that the falling out had anything to do with common knowledge of Epstein’s alleged exploitation of adolescents as young as 14.

Acosta, whose resignation leaves the Trump cabinet Hispanic-free, said, “It would be selfish for me to stay in this position and continue talking about a case that’s 12 years old rather than about the amazing economy we have right now.”

That the case is about the same age of some of Epstein’s alleged targets changes nothing, of course.

And selfish? You mean like when as a U.S. attorney in Florida you gave Epstein what The Miami Herald correctly called the “deal of a lifetime,” without even consulting or notifying the 36 underage victims identified in a federal investigation? It’s only thanks to The Herald and its never-give-up investigative reporter Julie Brown that Epstein has been indicted on new charges.

Unfortunately, it isn’t only fellow accused predators like Trump and former President Bill Clinton, who also says he hasn’t spoken to Epstein in years, who must have known Epstein’s plane was called the “Lolita Express” by the tabloids for a reason and chose to pal around with him anyway.

Vicky Ward, who profiled Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003, said recently that, “What is so amazing to me is how his entire social circle knew about this and just blithely overlooked it.” Virtually everyone she interviewed at the time “mentioned the girls, as an aside.” Yet that wasn’t worth missing a party over. Manhattan’s Who’s Who continued to attend his dinner parties, because as David Patrick Columbia, the founder of New York Social Diary, put it, “The only thing that gets you shunned in New York society is poverty.”

Maybe they’ll shun Epstein now that, in news coverage, he’s been downgraded from a “billionaire” to a “millionaire,” with a further fall to “thousandaire” still a possibility.

Has our view of exploiting and trafficking minors really changed in the last dozen years? Trump, who doesn’t want this matter to interfere with his 2020 campaign, suggests that it has: “He made a deal that people were happy with, and then 12 years later they’re not happy with it.”

The people who said they were trafficked by Epstein certainly weren’t happy with it. The public was unaware of the injustice. Inside the administration, there was more unhappiness that Acosta wasn’t more interested in deregulation than that he had coddled an alleged child rapist and disregarded the rule that victims be apprised of a plea deal. And the president still doesn’t see “the deal of a lifetime” as any sort of deal-breaker.

This was him, not me, because I’m with him,” Trump said of Acosta on Friday. “He was — he’s a tremendous talent. He’s a Hispanic man. He went to Harvard, a great student. And in so many ways I just hate what he’s saying now,” in offering his resignation, “because we’re going to miss him.”

I hate what Acosta isn’t saying. “In our heart we were trying to do the right thing for these victims,” he said when trying to save his job. But he still hasn’t apologized to them.

This column originally appeared in USA Today.

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