WASHINGTON – R. Alexander Acosta, controversial secretary of labor for President Trump’s administration, is set to resign Friday, according to the President’s announcement. The resignation comes amid repeated inquiries about how he handled the sex crime case of Jeffrey Epstein when serving as Florida federal prosecutor.
President Trump said he received a Friday morning call from Mr. Acosta informing him of the forthcoming resignation. This decision arrived mere 48 hours after Mr. Acosta attempted to defend his behavior during the 2008 case of Jeffrey Epstein, who ultimately went on to serve time in Florida jail on sex crime charges. Mr. Acosta did this through a news conference, wherein he also attempted to squelch a welling tide of discontent coming from the Democrat party that called for his resignation while trying to convince President Trump that he’s resilient enough to persist in his current role.
“He felt the constant drumbeat of press about a prosecution which took place under his watch more than 12 years ago was bad for the Administration, which he so strongly believes in, and he graciously tendered his resignation,” President Trump explained in a tweet after being seen with Mr. Acosta on White House South Lawn prior to departing for Milwaukee and Cleveland.
[Read further: Receive more updates on the Jeffrey Epstein affair.]
“This was him, not me,” President Trump said, referring to Mr. Acosta’s resignation decision, adding that he has been a “tremendous talent”, a “great, great secretary” and noting that “he went to Harvard, a great student.”
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Mr. Acosta admitted that the hubbub surrounding him became a diversion to President Trump.
“The focus needs to be on this economy and on job creation, on the decreased fatalities in the workplace and in mining,” Mr. Acosta said. “And going forward, that’s where this administration needs to focus, not on this matter.”
President Trump named Patrick Pizzella, Mr. Acosta’s deputy, as the interim secretary of labor when the resignation takes effect July 19. This will mean acting secretaries will be heading four cabinet agencies.
President Trump at first told others that, in his opinion, Mr. Acosta explained well why he had accepted Epstein’s plea that resulted in Jeffrey Epstein serving 13 months after having been accused of sexual abuse against dozens of girls and young women. However, after President Trump watched a full day of news coverage criticizing Mr. Acosta and when he heard from advisors that Mr. Acosta has become a perpetual source of diversion for his administration, he started questioning whether Mr. Acosta should be sticking around, as reported by people who are acquainted with President’s thinking.
Two anonymous sources intimately familiar with Mr. Acosta’s thinking say he was initially also thinking President Trump was satisfied with the news conference in which he elaborated on his actions and dealt with journalists’ questions. Mr. Acosta’s sudden resignation took aback the top officials heading the Labor Department as well, who thought the news conference, which was actually requested by President Trump, went swimmingly. In summary, it appears that Mr. Acosta has indeed decided to resign of his own volition and even without consulting with his advisors or colleagues about his plans.
Those same sources state that Mr. Acosta wasn’t a natural fit for the chaotic environment the Trump administration is steeped in. He apparently aimed to use his cabinet position only as a stepping stone to achieve his real goal – judicial position in Atlanta on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Certain officials from the White House expressed their opinion that Mr. Acosta was prejudiced in his position at the Labor Department with this future in sight, attempting not to aggravate Democrats in the Senate, whose support he would require for the confirmation hearing.
Mr. Acosta had scarce support in the West Wing, even locking horns with the director of the Domestic Policy Council, Joe Grogan, and Mick Mulvaney, acting chief of staff, over things such as bringing Obama’s workplace policies to an end.
In that particular instance, Mr. Acosta’s cabinet took up until March to put forward a proposal for ending Obama’s mandatory overtime pay regulation that affected salaried workers. The proposal suggested that eligibility threshold be lowered from $47,500 to $35,000. It took up until April before his cabinet proposed another regulation, this time to narrow the conditions for joint employment, which regards cases where companies are liable for franchisee and contractor violations. The problem is, business interests have been loudly demanding both since the Trump administration entered the White House.
Those on the right also want to see Mr. Acosta gone.
Although Mr. Acosta was constantly locking horns with advisors who wanted him to pick up the pace on deregulation, Mr. Pizzella is seen as a forthcoming assistant on the position.
Michael Lotito, the lawyer heading Littler Mendelson management firm who has been working with Mr. Pizzella for a long time, said, “He’s committed to getting key rules like overtime and joint employment done by the end of the year, doing everything humanly possible to achieve those goals.”
Mr. Pizzella has an impressive pedigree, having served under George W. Bush as assistant secretary of labor; during Obama, he was at the Federal Labor Relations Authority. However, Mr. Pizzella was fiercely opposed in 2017 confirmation hearings, when it surfaced that he was working at Jack Abramoff’s lobbying firm, who later got six years in federal prison for multiple felonies, including tax evasion and mail fraud.
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory near Guam, was a sizable client of the firm, notable for being exempt from American minimum wage and immigration laws. Massive textile manufacture was established on these islands, involving outrageous work conditions. Mr. Pizzella was tasked with preventing Congress from changing the terms of the deal.
Confirmation hearings brought up Mr. Acosta’s role in the Epstein prosecution as well, but it took until this week, when Manhattan federal prosecutors brought new charges that involved child trafficking, that Mr. Acosta’s handling of accusations from a decade ago became a hot-button issue for both sides of the isle.
Mr. Epstein’s connection with President Trump also came into the spotlight, who the latter praised in 2002 as “a terrific guy”, providing a novel line of criticism for several 2020 presidential candidates from the Democratic Party.
President Trump reiterated Friday that he had no connection with Epstein for years now, after they had a quarrel.
“I wasn’t a big fan of Jeffrey Epstein, that I can tell you,” said President Trump. “I haven’t spoken to him in 15 years or more.”
At his Wednesday news conference, Mr. Acosta stated that the best way to ensure Epstein faced jail time back then was a plea deal. Attempting to eke out a longer sentence through trial could have easily become “a roll of the dice”.
Mr. Acosta stated that his intention was to see Epstein’s victims helped. “The prosecutors of my office (…) insisted that he go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator,” he said. This is reminiscent of his defense during the confirmation hearings, when he was battered by questions on the same topic and senators still gave him a 60-38 vote of confidence. However, this week’s explanation at the news conference seemed inconsequential after more details of Epstein’s exploits came to light.
The resignation of Mr. Acosta is said to largely stem from his anguish over this recent pummeling of his reputation, according to people close to him. In retrospect, Mr. Acosta “would have done things differently” and shows regret over how he handled Epstein’s case, according to his associates.
The most recent charges brought by federal prosecutors against Epstein involve a sex-trafficking ploy to funnel girls as young as 14 to his Palm Beach and New York homes during 2002-5, with the possibility of a 45-year prison sentence.
Thursday, Democrats in Congress clamored for an explanation from the Justice Department about details in 2008 Mr. Acosta’s non-prosecution agreement with Epstein, which involved a clause promising to the defendant that his victims would not be notified of the agreement, a highly unusual and illegal practice. The clause and secrecy surrounding it raised concerns why Epstein – who President Trump described as “fixture” in Palm Beach, where President’s Mar-a-Lago club is located – got such a slap on the wrist.
Lisa Bloom, the lawyer representing a few of Epstein’s accusers, stated Mr. Acosta was never fit for the position in the Trump administration that he is finally leaving.
“Acosta has abused his public trust and should never have been appointed in the first place,” Ms. Bloom harried him in an email. “President Trump was willing to overlook Acosta’s sweetheart deal with Epstein when he appointed Acosta, even though many raised this issue at the time.”
Ms. Bloom noted her clients struggled with recollections of sexual abuse brought up by new charges, expressing hope that “accountability may really, finally, at last be possible.”
Another lawyer who represented Epstein’s victims, Theodore J. Leopold, stated Mr. Acosta was most likely squeezed out of the White House due to pressure from the upcoming election year.
“This is going to be a campaign issue. It was going to come back to the president at some point in time if Acosta stayed, because every day there was more fuel to the fire,” said Mr. Leopold. “I personally think the resignation has to do more with the fact that every day in the news the president’s name was coming up in conjunction with Epstein.”