Former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer unloaded on Alexander Acosta on Wednesday, saying Trump's labor secretary was peddling a "completely wrong" account of how Jeffrey Epstein escaped federal criminal penalties in 2008 in a cynical bid to "rewrite history."
In an extraordinary statement, Krischer pointed out that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Florida overseen by Acosta had drafted a "53-page indictment" against Epstein, suggesting the case against the politically connected financier was highly developed before it was abruptly and conspicuously aborted.
Krischer's remarks came hours after Acosta, in a nearly hourlong press conference, defended his actions and claimed Palm Beach state prosecutors were intent on going soft on Epstein.
“Simply put, the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office was ready to let Epstein walk free, no jail time,” Acosta said. “Prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable.” Acosta went on to argue that it was his office that secured jail time, restitution and registration as a sex offender.
Krischer left no doubt that this assertion left him livid.
"As the state attorney for Palm Beach County for 16 years [1993-2009], which included the entire period of the Epstein investigation, I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong," Krischer began. "Federal prosecutors do not take a back seat to state prosecutors. That’s not how the system works in the real world."
After outlining his office's efforts to subpoena witnesses and take evidence to a grand jury, Krischer said Acosta entered into "secret negotiations" with Epstein's lawyers.
"Subsequently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office produced a 53-page indictment that was abandoned after secret negotiations between Mr. Epstein’s lawyers and Mr. Acosta. The State Attorney’s Office was not a party to those meetings or negotiations, and definitely had no part in the federal non-prosecution agreement and the unusual confidentiality arrangement that kept everything hidden from the victims," Krischer said. "No matter how my office resolved the state charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office always had the ability to file its own federal charges.
"If Mr. Acosta was truly concerned with the state’s case and felt he had to rescue the matter, he would have moved forward with the 53-page indictment that his own office drafted."
Krischer concluded: "Instead, Mr. Acosta brokered a secret plea deal that resulted in a non-prosecution agreement in violation of the Crime Victims' Rights Act. Mr. Acosta’s should not be allowed to rewrite history."
An explosive Daily Beast report Wednesday indicated that Acosta previously told Trump transition team members that he was told to back off the Epstein case. "I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,'" Acosta reportedly said.
“So, there has been reporting to that effect," Acosta said Wednesday. "And let me say, there’s been report to a lot of effects in this case. Not just now but over the years. And again, I would, I would hesitate to take this reporting as fact."
Acosta continued: "This was a case that was brought by our office. This was a case that was brought based on the facts,” said Acosta. “And I look at the reporting and others. I can’t address it directly because of our guidelines.”
Epstein ultimately served only 13 months in jail and registered as a sex offender after pleading guilty to two felony prostitution charges, despite facing up to life imprisonment. Epstein was charged this week with sex trafficking and conspiracy during the early 2000s based on new evidence, and pleaded not guilty on Monday in New York City federal court.
Top Democrats have already rejected Acosta's explanation and called for his resignation, even as the White House indicated it would stand by the embattled Cabinet official.
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox News after Acosta's press conference that the labor secretary "did great" -- but reviews from Democrats were decidedly more mixed.
"Secretary Acosta had a chance to do right by Jeffrey Epstein’s victims," Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline wrote on Twitter. "He failed. Today’s press conference doesn’t change that. The only appropriate thing for him to do now is to resign."
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine agreed: "Acosta is trying to defend the indefensible. He put a monstrous predator above survivors of sexual abuse, and he’s got to go — period."
The plea deal spearheaded by Acosta when he was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida required Epstein to pay restitution to dozens of victims, but offered a variety of unusual concessions as part of a non-prosecution agreement.
First, the arrangement guaranteed immunity to "any potential co-conspirators" of Epstein -- a provision that signaled prosecutors' willingness to effectively end the federal investigation into potential crimes committed by Epstein associates. And the deal was kept under seal, meaning potential victims would have difficulty finding out about it and objecting to its terms. Some reportedly only found out about the deal from hearing about it on television.
The Miami Herald, in an explosive piece last year, identified several other apparent signs that prosecutors were working closely with Epstein's team. A top federal prosecutor on the case, A. Marie Villafaña, wrote to Epstein's lawyer, Jay Lefkowitz, that she would help his client avoid unwanted press attention.
“On an ‘avoid the press’ note ... I can file the charge in District Court in Miami which will hopefully cut the press coverage significantly," Villafaña wrote in September 2017. "Do you want to check that out?’’
One month later, Lefkowitz personally met with Acosta, his former colleague at top international law firm Kirkland & Ellis.
“Thank you for the commitment you made to me during our Oct. 12 meeting,’’ Lefkowitz wrote in an email memorializing his meeting with Acosta. "You ... assured me that your office would not ... contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants and the respective counsel in this matter."
The Herald has also reported that Krischer wanted Epstein charged only with "minor crimes."