U.S. President Donald Trump nominated Florida International University, FIU, College of Law Dean Alexander Acosta as labor secretary Thursday, calling him a “tremendous” pick.
Acosta, a conservative Cuban-American, was nominated to the position a day after fast-food millionaire Andrew Puzder withdrew his candidacy. Puzder was Trump’s initial pick, but backed out from the position on Wednesday after failing to receive Republican Party support.
Acosta was born in Miami in 1969 to wealthy Cuban parents who fled the Caribbean Island after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Following his appointment, media pundits and politicians hostile to the Cuban Revolution touted Trump’s pick on Twitter.
CNN’s Ana Navarro described him as a “hard-working lawyer” with a “squeaky clean reputation.” Veteran Republican Party Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called him “competent, prepared, brilliant.” Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, said his nomination was “great news” and that “he is a great choice.”
Mainstream media reports covering Acosta’s nomination have largely focused on the fact that he’s Trump’s first Latino Cabinet nominee and is favored by conservatives for his “clean” record. What these reports leave out, however, is his controversial role in sending a well-respected professor and his wife to federal prison for “treason” in 2006.
Acosta was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida during the administration of former President George W. Bush. He oversaw the indictment of former FIU psychology professor Carlos Alvarez and his wife, Elsa, on charges of “conspiring as illegal agents of the Cuban government,” according to the Miami Herald.
Acosta claimed the two “spies” gave voluntary statements to the FBI in 2005 explaining their contacts with Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence, according to the Gainesville Sun. He also alleged that Alvarez and his wife had spied for Cuba since 1977 and 1982 respectively.
But FBI agents acknowledged there was no evidence proving that they provided classified or military information to Cuba, the Gainesville Sun added. There is also no evidence they were paid by the Cuban government for the information.
Under pressure from Acosta and other prosecutors using questionable “evidence,” the couple was arrested in January 2006 and pleaded guilty to conspiracy. A year later, they were sentenced to five years in prison for “spying” on the right-wing Cuban American National Foundation and Brothers to the Rescue organizations.
While mysteries surround Acosta’s specific role in imprisoning Alvarez and his wife, it remains unquestionable that his track record isn’t as “clean” as many are making it seem.