THINGS TO KNOW
Alex Acosta, the Labor Secretary, said he is planning to resign under criticism related to the manner in which he dealt with sex crime charges leveled against wealthy magnate Jeffrey Epstein over 10 years ago, when Acosta was serving as southern Florida US Attorney.
The issue bubbled to the surface when Epstein, known to be politically connected and whose acquaintances include former President Bill Clinton and President Trump, was taken into custody on sex trafficking accusations July 6.
Presidential candidates from the Democratic party, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader, have called for Acosta’s resignation.
Alex Acosta, the Labor Secretary, announced his resignation when he came under pressure due to the manner in which he dealt with sex crime charges leveled against Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy businessman, over 10 years ago, when Acosta was in the role of US Attorney for southern Florida.
Acosta stood next to President Trump just outside the White House as he made the announcement to resign, with reporters eagerly soaking in every word. Trump said the decision was entirely Acosta’s and that he heard of it in a Friday morning call from Acosta.
“This was him, not me, because I’m with him,” Trump reiterated in a long debate with reporters prior to leaving the White House en route to events in Ohio and Wisconsin. “I said, ‘You don’t have to do this.’”
Acosta said to reporters that the issue was his involvement in Epstein controversy overshadowing administration’s achievements. Acosta said the decision is final but will come into effect one week after the announcement. Patrick Pizzella, Deputy Labor Secretary, will be interim Secretary, said President Trump.
Acosta’s letter of resignation delivered to President Trump states that “putting the American people first must avoid any distractions,” also noting that, “It has meant so much to me that you have offered your steadfast support in our private discussions and in your public remarks.”
The speedy resignation came about only 48 hours after Acosta organized a news conference, wherein he tried to explain the controversial agreement he made with Epstein’s attorneys back in 2007, when Acosta was in charge of Miami prosecution.
The issue was brought up on July 6 once again, when Epstein, who is known to have deep connections to politicians such as former President Bill Clinton and President Trump, was taken to custody in New York on federal charges of sex trafficking by prosecutors.
Epstein allegedly lured scores of underage girls to his mansion in Manhattan, requesting massages that would inevitably become sex acts. New York prosecutors charged him with one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors and one count of sex trafficking of minors.
Local and federal law enforcement have been investigating Epstein for a long time, in particular for sex crimes involving underage girls during 2002-5 in Florida and New York.
Acosta was the one who struck a secret bargain with Epstein, allowing him to stay out of federal charges on related matters.
Epstein was ultimately registered as a sex offender, serving a custodial 13-month sentence in jail, where he would be allowed to exit out on work release during the day.
Interestingly, even Acosta was disappointed with the punishment Epstein received. “The work release was complete BS,” Acosta admitted in his news conference held Wednesday, stating that his office did intend for Epstein to stay behind bars for full 18 months.
Acosta maintains that he was just trying to “do the right thing for these victims” and that his office “proceeded appropriately”. “We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” Acosta added.
The agreement between Acosta’s office and Epstein involved a non-prosecution clause, but the problem is the clause itself was also hidden from Epstein’s victims. In February 2019, a Florida judge found the agreement to be illegal due to the secrecy, since more than 30 Epstein’s underage victims who were sexually assaulted by him were not informed of the deal.
Then-press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said to reporters that the Trump administration was looking into the event but did not wish to comment on what could happen to Acosta.
“My understanding is (...) that they made the best possible decision and deal they could have gotten at that time,” she added.
Tuesday, Acosta tried to justify the calls he made during the Epstein case, adding that Epstein committed horrific crimes. “I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence,” Acosta noted in a tweet.
“Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
“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.”
In 2005, George W. Bush appointed Acosta as US Attorney for Southern District of Florida. Prior to that, Acosta was working in the Justice Department as the leader of the civil rights division and was also on the National Labor Relations Board.
He was chosen as Labor Secretary in 2017 by President Trump while serving as Florida International University dean of the law school. Acosta was the first Hispanic chosen for the Cabinet and the only serving as of 2019.
“I think he’ll be a tremendous secretary of Labor,” Trump said at a press conference announcing the appointment. “He has had a tremendous career.”