Trump Labor Sec. Alex Acosta Defends DOJ Epstein Deal as Dems Demand Resignation
After federal and state officials arrested financier Jeffrey Epstein this weekend, Democrats have drawn attention to the role Alex Acosta, now Labor secretary under President Donald Trump, played in the original case against Epstein. Acosta, then U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, had agreed to a secret plea deal that involved dropping the federal investigation into Epstein and those involved in his alleged conspiracy. Acosta defended the deal on Tuesday.
Acosta argued that when Epstein agreed to the deal in 2008, there was far less available evidence, so the guilty plea — which forced the financier to register as a sex offender and landed him in prison for 13 months — was a win for justice at the time. He also welcomed the new case against Epstein, revealed in an unsealed indictment on Monday.
"The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence," Acosta tweeted. "With the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator."
"Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice," the Labor secretary concluded.
Acosta's response leaves more to be desired, especially considering the current case against Epstein, but it does help explain why his office agreed to a plea deal at the time. That deal did seem particularly generous. During the financier's 13 months in jail, he was allowed to leave six days per week for a work-release program. Worse, the deal was kept secret from the victims who accused Epstein. According to reports, Acosta reached out to Epstein's legal team to create the deal.
Concerns over the deal are justly bipartisan.
"The fact that this monster received such a pathetically soft sentence is a travesty that should outrage us all," Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wrote to the Department of Justice last December, as the plea deal had become public. "I am particularly disturbed by this reporting indicating that federal prosecutors went out of their way to arrange this sweetheart deal for Epstein and conceal it from the women and girls that he abused who could have objected to it, in apparent violation of federal law."
"We need answers on this epic miscarriage of justice," Sasse added.
That said, Democrat demands for his immediate resignation seem more than a little opportunistic. Many Democrats and dozens of Republicans in the U.S. Senate have avoided rushing to judgment. Those who voted to confirm Acosta in 2017 said they are concerned but have not demanded his resignation, POLITICO reported. Most would rather wait until the DOJ issues a comprehensive report on the plea deal.
"What [Epstein] is accused of is despicable," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted. "If DOJ probe uncovers misconduct in Florida plea agreement those responsible should face consequences," he added. "The Florida plea agreement doesn’t apply to the new charges in NY & I’m confident justice will be served."
Meanwhile, many opportunistic Democrats have made public calls for Acosta's resignation.
On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted, "[Secretary Acosta] must step down. As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/ Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice. This was known by [President Trump] when he appointed him to the cabinet."
"Jeffrey Epstein should have been behind bars years ago as a serial sex trafficker of children. But unfortunately as a U.S. Attorney in Florida in 2008, [Secretary Acosta] chose to let Epstein off easy. Acosta must resign. If he refuses, [Donald Trump] should fire him," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted Tuesday.
Many Democrats running for president in 2020 have echoed these demands.
"The abuse of a child is one of the most heinous, despicable abuses of power imaginable. It is inexcusably poor judgment for a US Attorney to seek leniency for someone guilty of it. Secretary Acosta should provide his resignation immediately," former Vice President Joe Biden, the current 2020 frontrunner, tweeted.
"Alex Acosta should resign as Labor Secretary," Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tweeted. "We need leaders committed to fighting for justice for survivors of abuse, not protecting predators."
"I opposed Secretary Acosta's nomination, and voted against his confirmation. The last few days have only highlighted how ethically compromised and unfit to serve he is. Acosta must resign—now," Sen. Elizabeth Warren added.
"There are few crimes more horrendous than sexual violence against minors—and enabling that kind of predatory behavior is disgusting. I voted against Alex Acosta's nomination because he should never have been in a position of power in the first place. He needs to resign now," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) tweeted.
"Since when do underage girl sex ring traffickers get to go to their office every day while they serve their time? The victims should have had a say. That’s what the law says. I didn’t vote for former Florida U.S. Attorney Acosta to begin with and he should step down," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) added.
Julián Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama, tied Acosta to Trump and demanded Congress investigate Trump's knowledge of Acosta's work on the Epstein case.
"Secretary Acosta must resign. He actively worked to cover up and protect a serial sexual predator in the face of countless survivors. Donald Trump knew this when he hired him. Congress must investigate and take appropriate action," Castro tweeted.
Acosta does have important questions to answer, and a DOJ investigation may justify his ouster. As of yet, however, only the most partisan voices are demanding his resignation, and it seems a political tactic against Trump. If Trump wishes to extend an olive branch, he could ask Acosta to resign, but he might be well advised to wait for the results of an investigation.
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.