Labor secretary under fire for Epstein deal
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 7/10/19, 11:10 am
U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta is facing calls for his resignation this week for his role in the once-secret plea bargain agreement that allowed billionaire Jeffrey Epstein to avoid federal prosecution and spend only 13 months in jail despite allegations that he molested numerous teenage girls. Acosta served as a federal prosecutor in South Florida in 2008 when the deal was made. Epstein was arrested in New York on Saturday and pleaded not guilty to new charges of operating a sex trafficking ring that targeted underage girls.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have said Acosta should resign or be fired. Schumer called the plea bargain “obscene,” adding, “The first thing I’ve called for is that the Office of Professional Responsibility make public their documentation. It’s a major mystery to everybody as to what has happened.”
President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he felt “very badly” for Acosta, adding that he’s “very good” at his job. But he also said the White House would look “very closely” at Acosta’s handling of Epstein’s case. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Acosta “serves at the pleasure of the president, and I’m inclined to defer to the president to make that decision.”
Acosta tweeted Tuesday that he is “pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence.” At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, he defended how he handled the Epstein case, saying he got the best deal he could at the time, which led to Epstein pleading guilty to two state prostitution-related charges. Acosta noted that state authorities had planned to go after Epstein with charges that would have resulted in no jail time until his office intervened and pressed for tougher consequences. “We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” he told reporters. “That was the focus.”
Two of Epstein’s victims on Tuesday again asked a federal judge in Florida to throw out the 2008 plea deal. The judge found the Justice Department violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by not consulting Epstein’s victims about a nonprosecution agreement. The Justice Department and Epstein say the agreement must stand. On Wednesday, NBC News aired an interview with a woman who claimed Epstein raped her when she was 15. Jennifer Araoz said an associate of Epstein’s recruited her outside her high school in 2001 to visit him at his mansion and give him massages, which led to her assault a year later. Araoz’s accusations are not included in the latest criminal complaint against Epstein.
Editor’s note: We updated this report to include Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s comments during his news conference Wedesday afternoon.
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