Congress

Graham urged to allow probe into Trump labor secretary’s role in Epstein sex case deal

A government watchdog group is increasing the pressure on U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to investigate the circumstances under which Labor Secretary Alex Acosta helped negotiate a controversial plea deal for pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Allied Progress said Tuesday it would begin running digital ads on Facebook and Twitter geared toward users in the Republican lawmaker’s home state, South Carolina. The group also said it plans to place a full-page advertisement in the Sunday edition of The State newspaper.

“Why is Senator Lindsey Graham holding up a child sex abuse investigation?” the ad reads.

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has been investigating the role Acosta, then U.S. attorney for Southern Florida, played in securing a lenient plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire accused of sexually molesting nearly 100 underage girls.

A federal judge ruled Feb. 21 that federal prosecutors working under Acosta improperly concealed the terms of Epstein’s 2008 plea agreement.

The Justice Department’s Inspector General also would like to investigate the matter, saying it would ensure a more independent conclusion than the Office of Professional Responsibility inquiry. But in order to proceed, the inspector general needs congressional approval through passage of the Inspector General Access Act.

Allied Progress wants Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to advance the Access Act bill, allowing the inspector general to proceed.

“The Inspector General Access Act is now stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee with chairman Lindsey Graham. The victims and their families have waited for justice long enough. What is Senator Graham waiting for?” reads the ad.

Nearly two weeks ago, Allied Progress sent Graham a letter urging him to move on the legislation. Asked at that time by McClatchy whether he supported the bill, Graham initially replied he was unfamiliar with it.

Of the Acosta controversy, Graham said he only knew “what I’ve read in the paper.” Told a government watchdog group wanted him to advance the Access Act as a way to investigate the allegations against Acosta, Graham said, “Tell them I will definitely look at it.”

Graham noted U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, has been pushing the Justice Department to investigate Acosta’s handling of the Epstein plea deal.

“He brought this up as a concern, so I told him I share that concern and I wanted to make sure everything was on the up-and-up,” Graham said of his conversations with Sasse. “I will look at the bill.”

Allied Progress is running similar ads targeting Sasse, along with U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Tillis is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, up for re-election in 2020. Grassley is the former Judiciary Committee chairman who has championed the Access Act in the past.

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Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where her reporting on South Carolina politics appears in The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.
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