U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz has told members of Congress he will not investigate Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s controversial handling of a 2007 sentencing plea deal for a Palm Beach County sexual abuser while Acosta was serving as U.S. attorney in Miami.
More than a dozen House Democrats had asked Horowitz to probe possible misconduct by Acosta in the case of Jeffrey Epstein, a powerful and well-connected hedge fund manager who was indicted for recruiting and having sex with multiple underage girls.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said in a statement she was “deeply disappointed” that Acosta’s actions would not be subject to further review.
Epstein could have received life in prison, but Acosta brokered a deal allowing Epstein to plead guilty to two counts of prostitution. He served only 13 months in the county jail. The “non-prosecution agreement” ended the FBI’s search for additional victims in the case and stopped further investigation into additional participants in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a report by the Miami Herald.
Fifteen Democratic House members and Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska called on the Justice Department to investigate Acosta’s role in the lenient plea deal and whether there was any misconduct.
But federal law bars the Justice Department inspector general’s office from investigating allegations of misconduct against DOJ attorneys. In a letter to Democrats on Tuesday, Horowitz said Epstein’s case raised “important questions,” but his hands were tied.
“Over the past 30 years, my three predecessors as DOJ Inspector General and I have objected to this limitation on the OIG’s jurisdiction because it shields prosecutorial misconduct from review by a statutorily independent OIG,” Horowitz wrote.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 202, “The Inspector General Access Act of 2019,” which repeals the provision that bars the Justice Department inspector general’s office from investigating misconduct claims against DOJ attorneys.
Horowitz said he hopes the Senate will pass companion legislation so his office “can exercise jurisdiction over allegations of attorney misconduct.”
Wasserman Schultz said, “Our nation’s top law enforcers must police its own lawyers, especially when a non-prosecution agreement allows a serial sexual predator to receive nothing more than an offensive wrist slap that was hidden from his victims. In this outrageous case, the victims numbered in the dozens.”
She added, “The Inspector General Access Act, which the House just overwhelmingly passed, can put a true watchdog in the Department of Justice. It’s time for the Senate to act.”