WASHINGTON – Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned amid the fallout over a plea deal he made with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, a sex offender charged with human trafficking girls as young as 14.
President Donald Trump announced Acosta’s resignation Friday morning, saying the secretary called him Friday morning saying that the decision to resign was his.
“I thought the right thing was to step aside,” Acosta told reporters while appearing with Trump at the White House.
Trump told reporters Acosta is a “great labor secretary, not a good one,” and added, Acosta did a “very good job.”
Acosta, formerly a federal prosecutor, had defended his handling of the 2007 case and said he was “pleased” prosecutors were moving forward against Epstein, who was arrested on July 6 on charges of sex-trafficking. Epstein pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan federal court on July 8. The indictment alleges he “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes” in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida.
The recent charges against Epstein drew attention to Acosta’s role in the 12-year-old plea deal and prompted calls for his resignation.
A Miami Herald investigation in November 2018 revealed Acosta, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, had been directly involved in negotiating the 2007 deal with Epstein’s lawyers. The wealthy and influential hedge fund manager agreed to plead guilty to two state felony prostitution charges, pay restitution to his victims, register as a sex offender and serve 13 months in county jail.
In February 2019, a federal judge ruled Acosta had broken the law in negotiating the plea deal by failing to notify Epstein’s underage victims of the plea deal.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among the chorus calling for Acosta to resign.
In a tweet on July 8, Pelosi said Acosta “must step down” because “he engaged in an unconscionable agreement” with Epstein, which was “kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice. This was known by @POTUS when he appointed him to the cabinet. #AcostaResign.”
The next day, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was “calling on Secretary Acosta to resign” during a speech from Senate floor.
President Donald Trump defended Acosta, saying he feels “very badly” for him while calling him an “excellent” labor secretary.
“I do hear there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him,” the president said on July 9.
Epstein is known for his ties to powerful figures including Trump and former President Bill Clinton. However, Trump has tried to distance himself from Epstein. On July 9, he said the multimillionaire was a fixture in Palm Beach and that he knew him, but said they had a falling out about 15 years ago.
In 2002, about three years before investigators opened their first probe into Epstein, Trump told New York Magazine he had known Epstein for 15 years. Trump called Epstein a “terrific guy” and said, “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Acosta was sworn in as Trump’s labor secretary on April 28, 2017. He was the first Hispanic person to be appointed to Trump’s Cabinet and led efforts to encourage apprenticeships and workforce development.
He had not been Trump’s original choice for labor secretary. Acosta stepped in after Trump’s first nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration following increased scrutiny of his personal life and an admission he once employed an undocumented housekeeper.
Contributing: Doug Stanglin, William Cummings, Kevin McCoy, Michael Collins