WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Friday that Labor Secretary Alex Acosta has resigned, a move that comes after furor over a plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein.
Acosta has been under renewed scrutiny over his previous role as the US attorney in Miami, during which he negotiated the 2008 plea deal with Epstein. Epstein, a well-connected multi-millionaire, avoided a federal trial at the time and served only 13 months in prison for state prostitution charges over his involvement with underage girls. A Miami Herald investigation published last November described the plea deal, negotiated by Acosta, as the “deal of a lifetime.”
Federal prosecutors in New York unsealed a new criminal indictment Monday charging Epstein with having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls, part of the allegations that have circulated around the politically connected businessman for years. A “vast trove” of lewd photographs of young-looking women or girls was also confiscated from Epstein’s Manhattan home, prosecutors said in a court filing.
Epstein pleaded not guilty to the charges in Manhattan federal court on Monday afternoon.
Acosta, in a tweet on Tuesday, said: “The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence.”
The new charges sparked calls for Acosta’s resignation among Democrats, including congressional leadership and presidential candidates, from President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
The Justice Department inspector general told lawmakers in January that he is unable to investigate the circumstances surrounding the 2008 plea deal because of statutory limitations.
The White House indicated in March that they were reviewing Acosta’s role in the case and on Tuesday Trump praised Acosta but indicated that the White House would continue to evaluate the situation.
“I can tell you that for two and a half years he’s been just an excellent secretary of labor, he’s done a fantastic job. Now part of it is our economy is so good, our unemployment numbers are at record lows, so many good things are happening, but the fact is he’s been a very good secretary of labor,” he told reporters.
Trump said Tuesday that “a lot” of people were involved in the 2008 case in addition to Acosta.
“I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision,” he said. “Not just him. I can only say this from what I know and what I do know is that he’s been a great, really great secretary of labor. The rest, we’ll have to look at it, we’ll have to look at it very carefully. But you’re talking about a long time ago and again it was a decision made, I think, not by him but by a lot of people. So we’re going to look at it very carefully.”
The President later added that he felt “badly” for his labor secretary.
“I feel very badly actually for Secretary Acosta because I’ve known him as being somebody who works so hard and has done such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation but we’re going to be looking at that and looking at it very closely,” Trump said.
Acosta, the only Hispanic member of the Trump Cabinet, used his two-and-a-half year tenure to lead the administration’s efforts on apprenticeships, job training and second-chance hiring. He was also at the helm of the Labor Department when the agency scaled back an Obama-era overtime rule that had originally expanded overtime pay.
Acosta’s work aligned with the President’s priorities while serving as secretary by reducing unemployment, as well as implementing the President’s executive order that pushed private sector investment toward apprenticeships and work training.
Prior to joining the Trump administration, Acosta served in roles at the National Labor Relations Board under then-President George W. Bush as well as assistant attorney general for the civil rights division at the Justice Department.
He was also previously the dean of the Florida International University School of Law.
Acosta was selected for the Labor position following an unsuccessful nomination for Trump’s first pick, Andy Puzder, who withdrew his nomination amid scandal.
Puzder, the CEO of the company that owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food chains, faced fierce opposition mostly from Democrats in part related to his position on labor issues as well as the fact that he employed an undocumented immigrant housekeeper.