Back in February, U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta was spotted grabbing a bite with Justice Samuel Alito Jr. at the downtown Washington restaurant Central Michel Richard. Acosta wasn’t meeting a stranger. He clerked for Alito in the early 1990s when he was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Washington dinners and lunches are a regular source of gossip and intrigue, as appearances and connections sometimes end up featured in news reports and raise questions about influence and intentions. Cabinet secretaries’ schedules can provide a peek into Washington’s power network.
Acosta’s would-be successor is a prominent Washington lawyer so closely entwined in the regulatory pulse of the country at the highest levels that he, too, has dined with the Labor secretary, according to Acosta’s calendars. Eugene Scalia is now preparing to take over the leadership of an agency where he had served as the top lawyer in the George W. Bush administration.
Today is Acosta’s last day in office, a forced departure that comes amid renewed criticism of the lenient plea deal he signed off on for sex offender Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago as Miami’s top federal prosecutor.
Acosta and Scalia, the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher regulatory co-leader and a son of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, ate at an undisclosed location in January. Many of Acosta’s dinners were shared with pro-business leaders. The names of some guests are not revealed.
Scalia, whose nomination was announced in a Trump tweet on Thursday night, has long been a big name for household companies challenging class claims and regulatory oversight. The president said, “Gene has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field and is highly respected.” Scalia formerly led Gibson Dunn’s labor and employment practice.
Last year, Scalia represented the investment bank UBS Americas Inc. in challenging the power of employees to form a class action to fight compensation practices. Scalia was lead counsel to SeaWorld in a challenge to the penalty that federal workplace safety regulators imposed after a trainer was killed by a whale. Scalia led the Gibson Dunn team that successfully fought the Obama-era Labor Department rule that would put new burdens on financial advisers in the retirement-savings industry.