House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday night became the highest-profile lawmaker to call for the resignation of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, citing his handling as a U.S. attorney of an earlier case against Jeffrey Epstein that resulted in a minimal sentence.
Pelosi’s call for Acosta to “step down” followed Monday’s indictment of the billionaire financier on sex trafficking charges involving underage girls. The indictment renewed focus on a plea deal negotiated in 2007 that led to two felony solicitation charges and 13 months in county jail for Epstein at a time when he had been facing the possibility of life in prison.
“@SecretaryAcosta must step down,” Pelosi said in a tweet. “As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/ Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice.”
“This was known by @POTUS when he appointed him to the cabinet,” Pelosi added, referring to President Trump.
The plea deal negotiated by Acosta — about which Epstein’s victims were not informed — came while he was a U.S. attorney in Florida. At the time, he opted not to prosecute Epstein on federal sex trafficking laws but agreed to lesser charges.
On Monday, in the indictment issued in federal court in New York, Epstein faced charges resulting from allegations like those in the Florida case. The indictment says that “in both New York and Florida,” Epstein “perpetuated this abuse in similar ways.”
Pelosi’s call for Acosta to resign followed similar calls by several other lawmakers, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
“Acosta must go,” he said in a tweet on Monday. “He handed a sweetheart deal to a serial sexual predator. Survivors of Epstein’s abuse have been denied their day in court for too long. I’m thankful other prosecutors stepped in to finally deliver justice.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said the new charges made it “agonizingly clear that Acosta failed to deliver true justice for the underage girls Jeffrey Epstein mercilessly exploited.”
“Someone with such poor judgement & utter disregard for survivors should not be our Secretary of Labor,” she wrote in a tweet.
The calls were not limited to Democrats.
In a tweet, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said Monday that he “fully” agreed with calls for Acosta’s resignation.
“Epstein’s conduct was despicable, and everyone who participated should be vigorously prosecuted,” Cruz said.
In an editorial published Monday night, the Miami Herald also urged Acosta to resign, saying he had been “ethically challenged 10 years ago.”
Acosta, through a spokesman, declined to comment on Monday. A Labor Department spokesman referred questions about Acosta’s role in the plea deal to the Justice Department. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Asked about the plea deal at his 2017 confirmation hearing, Acosta said that “professionals within a prosecutor’s office” decided on the deal, taking himself out of the negotiations.
Lisa Rein contributed to this report.