WASHINGTON (July 12): Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, under fire for his handling of a decade-old sex crimes case against Jeffrey Epstein as a U.S. prosecutor, said Friday he would resign in a surprise appearance with President Donald Trump.
“I thought the right thing was to step aside,” Acosta told reporters at the White House as Trump departed for campaign fundraisers in the Midwest. “It would be selfish for me to stay in this position.”
He said in a letter to Trump that his resignation will be effective July 19. Trump said Acosta’s deputy, Patrick Pizzella, would be named acting secretary of the department.
“Your agenda, putting the American people first, must avoid any distractions,” Acosta wrote to Trump. “I must set aside a part of me that wants to continue my service with the thousands of talented professionals at the Department of Labor.”
Acosta faced sudden, heightened scrutiny of his dealings with Epstein after federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced Monday they had indicted the financier for additional sex crimes. As the top federal prosecutor in south Florida in 2007 and 2008, Acosta signed off on a lenient plea deal with Epstein that allowed him to resolve earlier charges by serving just 13 months in a county jail and registering as a sex offender. He could have spent the rest of his life in federal prison.
The Manhattan prosecutors said they were charging Epstein for crimes he committed outside Florida, and that they aren’t bound by Acosta’s plea deal. Epstein has been charged with trafficking girls as young as 14 for sex in the latest case.
Acosta said Wednesday in a news conference that Epstein would have escaped jail time altogether had his office not been involved in the earlier case. But his performance at the news conference was criticized. Acosta repeatedly refused to offer an apology to Epstein’s victims, who didn’t know about the plea deal while it was being negotiated.
Trump said he thought Acosta did “a great job” in the news conference.
“In so many ways I hate what he’s saying now because we’re going to miss him,” Trump said. He said he had told Acosta he didn’t have to resign.
“I do not think it’s right or fair for this administration’s Labor Department to have Epstein as the focus,” Acosta said.
Trump also further distanced himself from Epstein, a former associate who has a home in Palm Beach, where the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort is located. Trump said he had a “falling-out” with Epstein but declined to explain the circumstances — “the reason doesn’t make any difference,” he said — and repeated that he hasn’t spoken to Epstein in 15 years.
The president said he threw Epstein out of Mar-a-Lago and that he had never visited Epstein’s Little St. James Island in the Caribbean, a place that locals call “Pedophile Island” and “Orgy Island.”
“Find out the people who went to the island,” Trump advised reporters. “Jeffrey Epstein was not a person I respected.”
Acosta’s replacement, Pizzella, is regarded by Democrats and labor unions as more aggressively pro-business than Acosta. He previously worked with notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff to try to shield a tiny cluster of Pacific Islands from federal labor and immigration laws.
Abramoff was the subject of one of the largest congressional lobbying scandals in recent history and was sentenced to federal prison, after pleading guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.