President Joe Biden's pick to lead the U.S. Justice Department's criminal division is facing new scrutiny over a plea deal he brokered with a Louisiana district attorney who was accused of coercing sexual favors from as many as two dozen women.
A former FBI agent blasted Kenneth Polite in a whistleblower letter unsealed this week, saying he lacked the courage to seek justice and left victims in the dark about the 2016 case while serving as New Orleans' top federal prosecutor.
At issue is the case of Harry Morel, the longtime district attorney in suburban St. Charles Parish who was accused of trading sex for leniency for years from women facing criminal charges in his jurisdiction.
But Morel, 78, was never charged with sexual misconduct, even after Polite received Justice Department approval to indict him on racketeering charges.
Instead, he served less than two years in prison after pleading guilty to a single count of obstructing the federal investigation – a deal the former FBI agent likened to the notoriously lenient plea bargain financier Jeffrey Epstein struck with federal prosecutors in Florida in 2008.
As in the Morel case, the many victims of Epstein's sexual predation were left out of plea negotiations under then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, who later stepped down as labor secretary after new sex trafficking charges were brought against Epstein in New York.
“Polite was supposed to come in and save the day,” said a woman who accused Morel of sexually assaulting her and asked not to be identified. “The handling of the Harry Morel case was a joke.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Polite would supervise more than 600 federal prosecutors and oversee a wide range of criminal cases as assistant attorney general.
Polite has defended Morel's sentence as a just outcome, noting a previous U.S. attorney declined to bring any charges in the case.
The plea deal, Polite told reporters at the time, reflected “significant evidentiary concerns.”