Facing a growing chorus of calls to resign, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta indicated Wednesday he does not intend to step down from his post in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.
At a press conference, Acosta defended the deal he hatched as a federal prosecutor with Jeffrey Epstein in 2008, helping the wealthy financier avoid charges and keep under wraps the details of allegations he had raped or abused dozens of young girls in his Florida mansion. Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting underage girls for prostitution, registered as a sex offender and served 13 months in jail ― much of which he spent on work release.
New sex trafficking charges filed against Epstein in New York earlier this week brought renewed scrutiny to the “deal of a lifetime” for him that Acosta brokered as the U.S. attorney in Miami. Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said it is time for Acosta to leave the Labor Department, given how he handled the Epstein case.
Acosta never directly responded to the calls for his resignation while speaking with reporters at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. But he suggested he won’t be going anywhere for now.
“Facts are important and facts are being overlooked,” Acosta said, describing Epstein’s plea as the best he could do at the time.
Acosta also said he had spoken with Trump since the new charges against Epstein emerged and said, “My relationship with the president is outstanding.”
He added that Trump has “made very clear publicly that I have his support.”
The indictment filed Monday said Epstein ran a sex ring and lured girls as young as 14 to his opulent homes in Palm Beach, Florida, and the Upper East Side of Manhattan, during the early 2000′s. He allegedly pressured many of the same girls to recruit others, paying them for massages and sex acts.
Prosecutors said the new case they built is not affected by the deal Epstein made with Acosta. That pact allowed Epstein to plead guilty to state charges but gain immunity for himself and potential co-conspirators from far more serious federal charges.
“There was a value to a sure guilty plea,” Acosta said Wednesday defending the 2008 deal. “We believe that we proceeded appropriately.”
He added, “You always look back and say, ‘What if.’”
The Miami Herald reported last year how the sweetheart deal was kept secret from Epstein’s victims in an apparent violation of federal law, and how Acosta’s team helped Epstein minimize any negative publicity stemming from the case.
The Herald’s exposé, which included interviews with now-grown victims who, the newspaper reported, “believe they were betrayed by the very prosecutors who pledged to protect them,” brought fresh attention to Acosta and his role under Trump.
One of the responsibilities Acosta is tasked with as labor secretary is combatting human trafficking.
Acosta has been one of the steadier and more low-key members in a Cabinet known for high turnover and controversy. Like the rest of Trump’s team, he has been a firm ally of businesses, moving to pare back regulations intended to benefit workers. Bloomberg Law reported last month that Acosta and his inner circle had retreated to a “fortress mentality,” cutting off both political appointees and civil servants from policy discussions.
Despite the fresh attention on the Epstein case, Trump has voiced his backing of Acosta, though such support has been known to vanish with little notice. The president, who was once pals with Epstein, told reporters at the White House Tuesday that “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.”
This story has been updated details from Acosta’s press conference.