If you have a job making political advertising for Democrats, you may want to save the video clip of this one for later use.
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned Friday amid intense scrutiny of his role as a U.S. attorney a decade ago in a deal with Jeffrey Epstein that allowed the financier to plead guilty to lesser offenses in a sex-crimes case involving underage girls.
President Trump told reporters Friday morning that Acosta had decided to step aside. He called Acosta a “great labor secretary, not a good one” and a “tremendous talent.”
“This was him, not me,” Trump said of the resignation decision, as Acosta stood by his side. “I said to Alex, you don’t have to do this.”
It’s customary whenever possible for a president to say kind things about a cabinet member who is stepping down. Even if everyone knows that the president is actually furious with the person, you can expect them to say that they did a good job and they’re grateful for their service. It’s also completely normal for the president to claim that the decision wasn’t theirs and they accepted the resignation with some reluctance, even though this is only rarely true.
But this isn’t an ordinary case. This isn’t about taking unauthorized flights or buying fancy office furniture or even run of the mill cronyism and corruption. This is about an extensive international underage sex slavery ring. Secretary Acosta, who announced his resignation will become official next week, has been rebuked by a federal judge for wrongly keeping the victims in the dark about a non-prosecution agreement he struck with Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyers. This is a grotesque and unprecedented scandal involving a former close personal friend of the president.
Trump did not have to say that Acosta was “a tremendous talent” or that he’s been “great labor secretary, not a good one.” He didn’t even have to show Acosta the usual courtesies given that he’s been exposed as an unconscionable public official.
Acosta is leaving Trump’s cabinet because the public outcry has been too much to withstand, and Trump decided to create as little distance from his as possible. That’s political malpractice, but hardly unprecedented. He should have showed anger and a sense of betrayal toward Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, but instead praises and dangles pardons in front of them. Even when he has a decent case to make that he’s been ill-served and did not know what his underlings were doing or had done, he chooses to embrace and protect them.
At some point in the general election, Trump will be asked about why he has the habit of employing people who get arrested, resign in disgrace, or both. No doubt, he’ll be dishonest about his record in these cases, which is why you want the video footage of him praising these people.
If you can’t separate yourself from a guy like Acosta, you have to pay a hefty political price for it. I’m sure the Democratic ad-makers understand this.