U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta on Wednesday said he has no plans to resign his cabinet post despite the intense backlash over his role in granting Jeffrey Epstein’s very lenient 2008 plea deal for sex crimes. Scrutiny of Acosta’s involvement in the deal arose again after federal authorities in New York arrested Epstein over the weekend. Esptein has been charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.
Despite overwhelming evidence that Epstein sexually abused numerous underage girls in 2008, Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, allowed Epstein to plead guilty to state charges for soliciting prostitution from a minor. Epstein was sentenced to 13 months in jail, which he served in a private wing of the Palm Beach state prison and was permitted to leave the premise for 12 hours a day, six days a week as part of a work release pass.
Here’s what Acosta had to say in response to the criticism.
“Let me start by reiterating that I’m pleased that the New York prosecution is going forward. They brought these charges based on new evidence against Jeffrey Epstein,” Acosta said, adding, “and this is a very very good thing.”
Acosta went on to say that, in 2008, federal prosecutors from his office actually prevented state prosecutors from allowing Epstein to walk away without serving any jail time at all.
“We’ve seen other cases where state prosecutors let folks go with no sentence and people shake their heads. In this case, the federal office intervened before the plea was taken and said ‘stop.’”
Acosta then said that his office intervened on behalf of Epstein’s victims.
“I have viewed the victim interviews. They’re hard to watch because I know that my former colleagues, the men and women of my office wanted to help them, I wanted to help them. That is why we intervened,” he said.
However, it should be noted, that Acosta signed Epstein’s plea deal without notifying or informing Epstein’s victims about the agreement or allowing them to testify about the abuse they suffered.
In February, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that Acosta’s office violated the Crime Victims Rights Act law by concealing the plea agreement and intentionally misleading the victims.
“Particularly problematic was the Government’s decision to conceal the existence of NPA and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility,” Marra wrote.
When questioned why his office allowed Epstein’s plea deal to immunize his named and unnamed co-conspirators, a move critics have decried as unprecedented, Acosta avoided answering the question directly.
“The purpose in this case was to bring Epstein to jail, to put him behind bars. And so there were other individuals that may have been involved, in any type of conspiracy there are individuals around someone, the focus really is on the top player. And that’s where our focus appropriately was,” he said.
Later pressed about his office’s decision to immunize Epstein’s co-conspirators, Acosta said he would not have allowed sexual abusers to be part of the non-prosecution agreement: “If my office had been aware of individuals who committed acts such as sexual abuse, it would not have been my position that those individuals should have been part of that kind of immunity.”
Acosta did not offer an apology to Epstein’s victims.
The Acosta press conference ran 53 minutes and he never offered any kind of apology to the victims, even when asked if he would.
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) July 10, 2019
Acosta already praised the New York prosecution of Epstein in a series of tweets on Tuesday.
“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. “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.”
He also took a moment to defend his 2008 plea agreement with Epstein, tweeting: “Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
As previously reported by Law&Crime, Acosta’s Tuesday tweets were widely panned by legal experts, many of whom said that, at the time of Epstein’s plea deal, Acosta’s office possessed a great deal of the evidence currently being utilized by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
While CNN reported Wednesday that Acosta’s position in the Trump administration “hangs by a thread,” Acosta described his relationship with President Donald Trump as “outstanding,” saying he had just spoke to the President who had assured him that “any articles to the contrary” were “BS.”
The president has remained publicly supportive of Acosta thus far.
“I can tell you that for two-and-a-half years he’s been just an excellent secretary of labor, he’s done a fantastic job,” Trump said Tuesday. He then attempted to diminish Acosta’s involvement in Epstein’s plea agreement, saying that he heard “there were a lot of people involved in that decision.”
[image via YouTube screengrab]