Politico reports on today’s big bad Friday story for the Trump administration, the resignation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta after new sex crime charges against billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein called Acosta’s previous involvement in the case into question:
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is stepping down from his post, just two days after he held a news conference to defend a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while serving as a U.S. attorney in Florida more than a decade ago.
President Donald Trump informed reporters Friday morning of Acosta’s departure. “This was him, not me,” said Trump as Acosta stood beside him.
Trump, who saw Acosta largely as a source of favorable monthly statistics about unemployment and job growth, called Acosta “a great Labor secretary not a good one” and “a tremendous talent. He’s a Hispanic man, he went to Harvard, a great student.” Trump indicated that he was satisfied with Acosta’s explanation for the plea deal in Wednesday’s news conference, saying, “He explained it.”
President Donald Trump has a habit of discounting the allegations against his scandal-plagued subordinates at the same moment as they’re being shown the door–a two-faced method of scandal management that does little in the end to shield the President from fallout. Acosta’s involvement in a plea deal that has been widely condemned as letting a rich and powerful figure off the hook looks bad of course, but there’s a whole culture of elitism and impunity that allowed it to happen. It includes the President’s own description of Epstein in 2002 as a “terrific guy” who “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
With Acosta out, attention has turned now to deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella, taking over from Acosta in an acting capacity. Over ten years ago, some of our more seasoned readers will remember, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer saw his 2008 campaign derailed by revelations that Schaffer had participated in a “fact-finding” junket to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to “investigate” reports of labor abuses in the territory. In fact the trips were carefully-managed luxury excursions intended to cover up labor abuses, part of a strategy by now-disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff on behalf of the island’s garment industry and corrupt local government.
Who helped organize those trips? That would be Patrick Pizzella:
Ms. Ridenour said Mr. Abramoff believed that the ‘‘full story’’ on the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (‘‘CNMI’’) was not getting out, so he arranged ‘‘fact-finding’’ trips for employees of think tanks, Members of Congress, congressional staff, and others. She said Mr. Abramoff asked that NCPPR become a sponsor so that Members of Congress and their staffs could attend and abide by the rules. She said she had no objections because she had gone on such a trip and it had been truly educational. ‘‘As far as I knew for years, he, they went, sat in a room like I did, talked about OSHA violations, I don’t know,’’ Ms. Ridenour told Committee staff.
Patrick Pizzella, a colleague of Mr. Abramoff’s at Preston Gates, wrote to Mr. Abramoff on July 1, 1996, to explain how they planned to funnel money to NCPPR to pay expenses related to a trip to the CNMI. [Pols emphasis]
In a September 2017 letter from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights opposing Pizzella’s nomination as Deputy Labor Secretary, more elaboration on his role in the CNMI scandal:
Mr. Pizzella worked closely with Jack Abramoff to lobby for policies on the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands that essentially allowed for unchecked slave labor to be performed with the imprimatur of the “Made in the U.S.A.” label on goods and clothing. At his hearing, Mr. Pizzella repeatedly refused to offer straightforward answers to simple questions posed by Senators and provided no real assurances that he is committed to protecting the rights of workers.
Mr. Pizzella, if confirmed, would essentially be the Chief Operating Officer of the department tasked with protecting a wide range of core labor rights, including proper payment under the wage and hour laws, the civil rights of federal contract workers, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and more. Yet he has not done enough to repudiate his past record of defending companies that routinely ignored these rights, and he has not given workers adequate reason to believe that he will defend their rights in the future.
When Trump nominated Andy Puzder, the CEO of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains of fast-food restaurants to serve as Labor Secretary, the underpaid employees of his company begged for the nomination to be rescinded–which it eventually was. About the only way we can imagine to surpass that folly would be give the job to Jack Abramoff’s right-hand man for keeping the Mariana Islands a haven for cheap “Made in the U.S.A.” labor.
It’s the scandal that arguably ended Bob Schaffer’s political career. And it may not be done ending careers.