Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta is resigning, President Donald Trump said Thursday.
With Acosta at his side, Trump made the announcement as he left the White House for a trip to Wisconsin and Ohio. The president said Acosta had been a “great” labor secretary, reported the Associated Press.
“I hate to see this happen,” Trump said. He said he did not ask Acosta to leave the Cabinet.
This week Acosta had faced mounting criticism for his role in cutting a secret deal for sex offender Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago. Epstein was arrested in Miami after police investigated charges that he lured dozens of underage girls to his palatial home and there sexually abused them, often paying them while pressuring them to find new girls.
Lawyers for Epstein, now 66, had found a way to end the investigation in Florida that could have landed him behind bars for life.
Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida at the time of the original Epstein criminal case, reached the secret non-prosecution deal in 2008 with the wealthy financier to halt the federal sex abuse investigation in return for Epstein pleading guilty to lower state charges involving a single victim. Epstein was also able to serve his sentence while being able to leave the county jail for his office five days a week.
On Monday, in a shocking development, Epstein was arrested and charged with sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in descriptions of luring and trafficking very close to the Florida case. New York federal prosecutors say Epstein sought out minors, some as young as 14, from at least 2002 through 2005 and paid them hundreds of dollars in cash for sex at either his Manhattan townhouse or his estate in Palm Beach.
Epstein faces up to 45 years in prison if found guilty.
Prosecutors said the evidence against Epstein included a “vast trove” of hundreds or even thousands of lewd photographs of young women or girls, discovered in a weekend search of his New York City mansion. Authorities also found papers and phone records corroborating the alleged crimes, and a massage room set up the way accusers had said it appeared, prosecutors said.
The Miami Herald has reported that at least a dozen new victims have come forward to claim they were sexually abused by Epstein even as the multimillionaire money manager this week tried to convince a federal judge “to allow him to await a sex trafficking trial from the comfort of the same $77 million Manhattan mansion where he’s accused of luring teenage girls into unwanted sex acts.”
Following Epstein’s arrest Saturday in New Jersey, four women have reached out to New York lawyer David Boies, and at least 10 other women have approached other lawyers who have represented dozens of Epstein’s alleged victims in the past.
The New York Times reported that Epstein was able to circumvent needing to register as a sex offender in all the states he has homes in. In New York City he was able to avoid check-ins with authorities by changing his official residence to the Virgin Islands. In New Mexico, where he owned a large residence south of Santa Fe, he was able to avoid inclusion in the state’s registry entirely.
Acosta earlier this week attempted to clear his name, and held a news conference to defend his actions. In a 50-plus-minute rebuttal, Acosta insisted his office had secured the best deal it could at the time and was working in the victims’ best interests.
“We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” he said, refusing to apologize for his actions. “We believe that we proceeded appropriately.”
Pressed on whether he had any regrets, Acosta suggested that circumstances had changed since then.
“We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight and we live in a very different world,” he said. “Today’s world treats victims very, very differently,” he said.
This summary was prepared by deputy editor Nancy Bilyeau.