Labor Secretary Acosta holds news conference after Epstein fallout – NBC News
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday defended his role in cutting what critics have called a lenient plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago and signaled that he has no intention to resign his post.
Acosta, who served as a U.S attorney in Florida, said in a news conference that his office intervened in the case after state prosecutors failed to secure a plea deal that would have resulted in jail time for Epstein and give justice to his victims.
“Times have changed, and coverage of this case has certainly changed … ” Acosta said, adding, “the facts are being overlooked.”
“I wanted to help them, that is why we intervened, and that’s what the prosecutors of my office did,” he said. “They insisted that he go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator.”
Acosta added: “Epstein’s actions absolutely deserve a stiffer sentence.”
Acosta secured a federal non-prosecution agreement with Epstein as part of the plea deal, which critics have blasted as too lenient.
“I think what they would find is that the office acted appropriately,” Acosta said at the news conference. He also pushed back against criticism that he violated the law by not informing Epstein’s victims about the non-prosecution agreement.
Calling the case “complex,” Acosta argued that he and the other federal prosecutors were following Justice Department policy, and they waited until they secured the plea deal and added a provision that Epstein pay restitution to victims before notifying them in case the deal fell apart.
The labor secretary’s role in the administration has come under scrutiny after Epstein, 66, was arrested over the weekend and charged Monday with sex trafficking of minors in New York and Florida from at least 2002 through 2005. Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Federal prosecutors in New York allege the politically connected financier, who has socialized with Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew, sexually abused dozens of minors and paid his victims to recruit others, allowing him to build a vast network of girls to exploit.
Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and felony solicitation of prostitution, which required him to register as a sex offender and serve about a year in a Florida county jail. He was able to leave almost daily for work, and was allowed to have his own private security detail behind bars.
Acosta maintains the arrangement helped pressure Epstein into pleading guilty to state charges and having to register as a sex offender. On Tuesday, the labor secretary defended his handling of the case and praised federal prosecutors in New York for the new charges against Epstein.
“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 wrote in a series of tweets.
“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,” Acosta wrote. “Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
Acosta’s comments came after Democratic leaders in Congress and several Democratic presidential candidates called on Acosta to resign his Cabinet post following the latest charges against Epstein.
Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter to Acosta on Wednesday inviting him to testify at a hearing on July 23 about his role in the non-prosecution agreement for Epstein as well as a district judge’s ruling in February that Acosta and other federal prosecutors violated the law by not notifying the victims about the agreement.
Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday also requested a briefing from the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility on its investigation into the federal prosecutors’ actions in the case.
Trump spoke to Acosta by phone Tuesday afternoon and urged him to hold the news conference to answer reporters’ questions about his handling of the case, a person familiar with the matter said.
The president also defended Acosta on Tuesday and said that he had a “falling out” with Epstein a number of years ago.
“I had a falling out with him a long time ago,” Trump told reporters at the White House about his relationship with Epstein. “I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years.”
“I was not a fan of his. That I can tell you,” Trump added. He did not respond to a question about what caused the falling out.
The president praised Acosta on Tuesday for his job performance.
“He’s been just an excellent secretary of labor,” Trump said, before suggesting that multiple officials, in addition to Acosta, were responsible for how the earlier case turned out — and that they probably “would wish they’d maybe done it a different way.”
“If you go back and look at everybody else’s decisions, whether it’s a U.S. attorney, or an assistant U.S. attorney, or a judge, you go back 12 or 15 years ago or 20 years ago and look at their past decisions, I would think you would probably find that they would wish they’d maybe done it a different way,” Trump said.
“I do hear there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him,” he said. “You’re talking about a long time ago. And again it was a decision made, I think, not by him but by a lot of people.”
Trump added that he felt “very badly” for Acosta.