Labor Secretary Alex Acosta Resigns Over Sweetheart Plea Deal With Jeffrey Epstein

After a firestorm of criticism for his handling of a decade-old plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has resigned.

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has resigned amid a firestorm of criticism over what can only be called a sweetheart plea deal that he struck with Jeffrey Epstein regarding sex trafficking and sexual abuse some ten years ago:

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is stepping down from his post, just two days after he held a news conference to defend a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while serving as a U.S. attorney in Florida more than a decade ago.’

President Donald Trump alerted reporters this morning of Acosta’s departure. “This was him, not me,” said Trump, who saw Acosta largely as a source of favorable monthly statistics about unemployment and job growth. Trump called Acosta “a great labor secretary not a good one,” a “tremendous talent” who “went to Harvard.” He indicated Friday that he was satisfied with Acosta’s explanation for the plea deal in Wednesday’s news conference, saying, “He explained it.”

But Acosta has had a rocky relationship in recent months with other White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, over the perceived slow pace of deregulation at the department.

Acosta, a 50-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer, came newly under fire for the lenient 2008 plea deal after Epstein was re-arrested July 6 in New York City and charged with sex trafficking. Under the earlier plea agreement, Epstein served only 13 months of an 18-month term and was permitted daily furloughs to go to the office. Epstein also was required to register as a sex offender and to pay restitution to his underage victims.

Things began to unravel for Acosta in November, when the Miami Herald published a lengthy reexamination of the case, and accelerated in February, when a district court judge ruled that the 2008 plea deal violated the Crime Victims Rights Act because Acosta never revealed the terms of the deal to Epstein’s victims before it was finalized. Also in February, the Justice Department opened an investigation into whether Acosta’s prosecution team committed professional misconduct in its handling the Epstein case.

Key details of Acosta’s plea agreement with Epstein were known to senators at the time Acosta was confirmed as labor secretary, though initially these seemed minor compared to domestic abuse allegations against Trump’s first pick for labor secretary, Andy Puzder.

Acosta defended his actions at a congressional hearing this past April, saying he entered the case only after a state grand jury recommended that only one charge be filed against Epstein — a course of action that would have resulted in no jail time for Epstein, no restitution to victims, and no registration as a sex offender.

“At the end of the day Mr. Epstein went to jail,” Acosta said. “Mr. Epstein was incarcerated, he registered as a sex offender, the world was put on notice that he was a sex offender, and the victims received restitution.”

Acosta has suggested that he and his attorneys were worn down by Epstein’s all-star legal team, which included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s. Among other tactics, the Epstein lawyers investigated the prosecutors looking for “personal pecadillos,”

Acosta wrote in 2011 to journalist Conchita Sarnoff, whose 2016 book “TrafficKing” chronicled the Epstein prosecution. Acosta called these efforts “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”

Acosta has also said that the full extent of Epstein’s alleged abuse wasn’t known at the time he struck the plea deal.

“Had these additional statements and evidence been known,” he wrote in a letter Sarnoff, “the outcome may have been different.”

More from The Washington Post:

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned Friday amid intense scrutiny of his role as a U.S. attorney a decade ago in a deal with Jeffrey Epstein that allowed the financier to plead guilty to lesser offenses in a sex-crimes case.

President Trump told reporters Friday morning that Acosta had decided to step aside. He called Acosta a “great labor secretary, not a good one” and a “tremendous talent.”

“This was him, not me,” Trump said of the resignation decision, as Acosta stood by his side. “I said to Alex, you don’t have to do this.”

Acosta, the only Hispanic in Trump’s Cabinet, said he had submitted his resignation to take effect in a week.

“I don’t think it’s right or fair to have this administration’s labor department have Epstein be the focus instead of the incredible economy we have today,” Acosta said. “It would be selfish for me to stay in the position and continue talking about a case that is 12 years old.”

Trump said that Patrick Pizzella, currently deputy secretary of labor, will become acting secretary of the department.

The 2008 plea deal in Florida came under renewed scrutiny in light of Epstein’s indictment Monday on more child sex trafficking charges in New York.

At a news conference Wednesday, Acosta defended his role as the federal prosecutor in brokering the plea deal for Epstein, but lawyers for alleged victims criticized his explanation and Democrats called for him to appear at a congressional hearing in two weeks.

He said a state’s attorney in Palm Beach County was preparing to allow Epstein to plead to a single charge of solicitation that did not make a reference to the age of the female minor. That deal would have carried no jail time and would not have required Epstein to register as a sex offender.

“We wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” Acosta said. “He needed to go to jail.”

The former state’s attorney for Palm Beach County at the time of the Epstein plea deal released a statement disputing Acosta’s account following the news conference.

“I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong,” said Barry E. Krischer, who added that Acosta could have moved forward with a 53-page indictment that his office had drafted.

After Acosta’s news conference, the reaction inside the White House was mixed, according to a senior White House official, who requested anonymity to speak more candidly.

Some aides thought Acosta had adequately explained his handling of the Epstein case, and had “won” by not further harming himself, the official said. But others had been expecting a more animated performance, and found Acosta’s time before the cameras disappointing, saying he’d failed to mount a full-throated defense of himself.

Trump expressed skepticism at Acosta’s performance and began asking senior aides what he should do about him, according to two White House officials, who also requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Acosta’s resignation comes in the wake of the arrest last Saturday of Epstein’s arrest upon his return to the United States and the charges that have been filed against him related to sex trafficking and sexual abuse of teen girls as young as 14 years old. In addition to this, it was revealed that a search of Epstein’s Manhattan mansion uncovered what has been described as thousands of pictures of underage girls that constitute child pornography, a charge that on its own could lead to him spending the rest of his life in prison.

While Acosta awaits his fate in Federal Court in New York, Acosta came under fire for the role he played as United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in the negotiation of what amounted to a plea deal with Epstein. Under the terms of that agreement, Acosta’s office agreed not to prosecute Epstein under Federal law provided that Epstein pled guilty to similar charges pending in Federal court. At the time, attorneys in Acosta’s office had prepared, but not filed a 56-page Federal indictment that included charges that could have led to significant time in Federal prison had Epstein been convicted. Instead, Epstein pled guilty to a much smaller list of state charges that led to him serving a much shorter jail sentence of just 13 months during which he was permitted to leave jail during the day to work in his office. After that sentence was served, Epstein was required to register as a sex offender but we’ve since learned that he failed to do so in at least two of the jurisdictions he has lived in over the years since he was released from jail.

In addition to the fact that the plea deal that Acosta entered into with Epstein was, on its face, far too lenient, there were other defects with the agreement. Specifically, Acosta failed to inform or consult with Epstein’s victims regarding the agreement he negotiated, this was in violation of Federal victims rights laws, as a Federal District Court Judge found earlier this year. Despite all of this, Acosta defended the agreement in a press conference on Wednesday and while most outside observers saw the performance as a disaster it had appeared at the time that it was sufficient for the one person whose opinion matters, the President of the United States. Today’s “resignation” appears to reflect the realization that the controversy was only going to get worse if Acosta continued in office.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    Paul Farhi

    Verified account

    @farhip
    18m18 minutes ago
    More
    Stats, per @cnn:

    No. of Trump cabinet officers fired or resigned to date: 13.

    At same point in Obama Administration: 0.

    At same point in GWBush Administration: 1.

    ReplyReply
    20
    1
  2. mattbernius says:

    Today’s “resignation” appears to reflect the realization that the controversy was only going to get worse if Acosta continued in office.

    I’m honestly not sure if this is going to be enough. My sense — and I could be entirely wrong — is that there’s a lot more that’s going to come out about the agreement (i.e. a lot more shoes to drop).

    My sense is if that wasn’t the case, Acosta would have been able to weather the storm (even given that performance).

    ReplyReply
    14
  3. Hal_10000 says:

    “While Acosta awaits his fate in Federal Court in New York”

    I think you mean Epstein, but Acosta should be getting the third degree on this decision. Something stinks to high heaven. Ken White (Popehat) has been going over the many unusual aspects of the deal (not explicitly, excluding other districts; meeting outside of the office with no other federal lawyers present, etc.) I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this.

    ReplyReply
    14
  4. michael reynolds says:

    I will not be surprised if the next thing we hear was that Acosta attended at least one Epstein party.

    ReplyReply
    12
    3
  5. Teve says:

    @Hal_10000:

    meeting outside of the office with no other federal lawyers present, etc.

    On the most recent Cafe Insider, Preet Bharara (former United States Attorney for the SDNY) and Anne Milgram (former Attorney General for New Jersey) both said that Acosta’s outside meetings with Epstein and his lawyers were super irregular and super bad moves.

    ReplyReply
  6. MarkedMan says:

    And just to send the tin foil hats spinning, here’s another interesting tidbit. At the beginning of his career Epstein got a teaching position at a prestigious college prep school. (Yes, a position that put him in close proximity of hundreds of young girls.) He had no teaching experience, hadn’t graduated from a college prep school himself, and didn’t even have a college degree, much less a teaching diploma. Who gave him that job against all odds? Bob Barr’s father. (The Independent article I link to mentions that Barr recused himself. However, events have superseded that. For whatever reason, Barr has partially un-recused himself.

    ReplyReply
    18
    1
  7. Hal_10000 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Possibly, but I’d actually be surprised if that were the case. I think this was bending over backward for a rich connected dude. We now know that NY authorities let his failure to register slide (which they’re jailing guys who fail to notify them that they’ve changed homeless shelters). We see this over and over again — in the church, at Michigan State, etc. — the powerful will always try to cover up for the powerful.

    ReplyReply
    23
  8. Slugger says:

    I have been recollecting other cases. Here is a rough breakdown. Larry Nassar abused many and got forty years. Jared Fogle abused about a dozen and got 15 years. Denny Hasert was probably in the Jared ballpark and got twelve months; his sentencing shows the benefits of political clout in my book. Epstein got a part-time sentence with less time than Hasert while the victim numbers sound like being in the Nassar range; somehow he got better consideration than a guy with obvious powerful friends. I think that the question of improper consideration is obvious.
    Personal note. I have previously stated here that a close relative prosecuted a large number of sexual child abuser criminals. She is proud of her conviction rate (100%) and the sentences she got. Her attitudes toward this category of criminals has rubbed off on me.

    ReplyReply
  9. michael reynolds says:

    The #MeToo movement, which so many men object to, is a direct result of men laughing off rape and child abuse and anything else having to do with their dicks. That a sick piece of garbage like Epstein finds so many men willing to help him out is an outrage.

    This is a man problem, one that men should have long since dealt with. The fact that women and children have to defend themselves against men is an indictment not just of the predators themselves, but men more generally. It’s the historic, evolutionary job of decent men to defend women and children from predators of all kinds, and we manifestly failed to do that when it came to standing up to creeps and bullies.

    I have been disgusted by the abject weakness of so many men, so clearly put on display under Trump. A bully, a thug, a sexual predator with majority support among men is appalling and speaks volumes about those men, but about the rest of us as well for so often turning a blind eye and confining our reaction to predators to nervous giggles.

    ReplyReply
    28
    1
  10. DrDaveT says:

    @Teve: I was going to ask, what’s the previous record for turnover in cabinet positions in a single term?

    Keep in mind, it’s not just the Secretaries — there is also chaos, churn, and a host of vacancies at all of the “political appointee” levels in pretty much every agency.

    ReplyReply
  11. Kylopod says:

    Epstein is quickly shaping up to be the Jack Abramoff of the Trump era. Yes, it involves different types of crimes, but it’s still a single criminal sleazeball with lots of connections who ends up dragging a lot of well-known people down with him.

    They’re also both perfect fodder for anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.

    ReplyReply
    3
    1
  12. Teve says:
  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Teve:

    Trump had set the record by spring of last year:

    I don’t think that’s what the linked story said. It only spoke of turnover in the first 2 years of an administration, and only showed the first 433 days of Trump’s (with 4 firings).

    I’m sure you’re right that Trump now owns the record, but I’m curious to know which past administration had the most total cabinet turnover.

    ReplyReply
  14. Teve says:

    @DrDaveT: You’re right that technically that’s not bulletproof evidence, but it’s kinda like if someone asked which team had the record for 3’s in an NBA game and I mentioned a game in April where against the Knicks the Golden State Warriors hit 57 of them in the first quarter. Not conclusive but highly suggestive. 😛 I’m looking to see if I can find more comprehensive numbers now.

    ETA there’s a good chart here that covers the last 7 presidents by year.

    https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/two-years-in-turnover-in-trumps-cabinet-is-still-historically-high/

    ETA 2: Trump already has the record for first-term losses going back to my birthdate, I’d have to do too much work to go back further. 😀

    ReplyReply
  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kylopod: Funny you should mention Abramoff. National Law Journal Breaking News headline:

    Acosta Resignation Elevates Ex-Preston Gates Counselor with Abramoff Ties

    And the beat goes on… and on… and on…

    ReplyReply
  16. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: On another thread I (admittedly inartfully) pointed out that we should be wary of Trump’s recent nominee to head the navy just based on the fact that Trump wanted him and he was willing to do it. Time after time, appointment after appointment, we find that the only people Trump can get on his team are either highly damaged or promoted way beyond their experience justifies. Trump simply cannot get any A level people in any position.

    ReplyReply
    4
    1
  17. mattbernius says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The Independent article I link to mentions that Barr recused himself.

    Not to defend Barr, but the reason he recused himself was his law firm (law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP.) had represented Epstein in the past. Without knowing the timing of all of that, it could have been appropriate or overkill.

    Honestly on this one, the reversal on direction came after the DOJ ethics review board felt there was no need for recusal. For as much as I distrust Barr, unless additional evidence surfaces, I don’t think there’s much smoke on this one and probably no fire.

    ReplyReply
  18. steve says:

    Now that I know that Ken Starr was involved I am more inclined to believe that someone high up offered Acosta a future high level job in government if he would cut Epstein a good deal. There arent many lawyers in this country sleazier than Starr.

    Steve

    ReplyReply
    11
    1
  19. MarkedMan says:

    @mattbernius:

    the reason he recused himself was his law firm (law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP.) had represented Epstein in the past.

    That’s the reason he gave, but you have to wonder if he just didn’t want to deal with questions about his father hiring a seemingly unqualified Epstein as a high school teacher. In fact, that alone should have sounded enough alarm bells in his head that he should have recused himself, never mind his law firms affiliations.

    I think we have reason to think Trump has a lot more to do with Epstein then he let on. First, he’s on record as praising the guy and making jokes about “liking them young” just before Epstein gets indicted. Trump now says he “had a falling out with Epstein” before the indictment, but he also simultaneously claims he never really knew him or had anything to do with him. How can you have a falling out with someone you only knew by reputation? And of course we have the woman who accused Trump and Epstein of rape at Epstein’s house at the time of Trump’s “falling out”. Now that we know the story behind the secret settlement, it certainly seems to match what other girls said at the time.

    Is any of this concrete proof? Of course not. But it is certainly grounds for suspicion. From before the election I’ve said Republicans will regret getting into bed with him. All throughout his career people have thought they can get into bed with him and still be able to walk away intact, and that has never happened. Everyone, and I mean everyone, who is known to have dealt with Trump has come away covered in sh*t and significantly poorer. He has burned community after community, first real estate tycoons in NYC, then airline investors, then casino investors, then football league investors, and the list goes on and on and on. Every single time the marks think they are smarter than all the others that came before and they will be able to manage him. And every single time they lose bigly.

    ReplyReply
    4
    1
  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I guess when they said trump had his back they meant, “he has his back in his sights”.

    ReplyReply
  21. Barry says:

    @mattbernius: “Honestly on this one, the reversal on direction came after the DOJ ethics review board felt there was no need for recusal. For as much as I distrust Barr, unless additional evidence surfaces, I don’t think there’s much smoke on this one and probably no fire.”

    Aside from Barr’s history.

    ReplyReply
  22. Kathy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I’m sure you’re right that Trump now owns the record, but I’m curious to know which past administration had the most total cabinet turnover.

    It’s common for much of the cabinet to change in the second term, so many real presidents have had much turnover overall.

    In this term, though, it’s getting so you won’t believe a politician is a Republican if they haven’t been fired or quit from the Cheeto White House.

    ReplyReply
  23. Bill says:

    @Kathy:

    It’s common for much of the cabinet to change in the second term, so many real presidents have had much turnover overall.

    After his re-election before his 2nd inaugural, Richard Nixon asked for letters of resignation from all his cabinet members and senior staff. He eventually accepted some of them. Before the election, Nixon had changes at Treasury, AG, Interior, Labor, Commerce, and I think a couple of others.

    Jimmy Carter did a cabinet shuffle in 1979, a little over halfway into his first and only term.

    ReplyReply
  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan:

    …his father hiring a seemingly unqualified Epstein as a high school teacher.

    Just in passing, I will note that private schools determine who they will hire based on a variety of factors, but possessing the “qualifications” public school districts require tends not to be among the factors, and when it is, only incidentally. The leaders of these schools are answerable to their boards of trustees and to influential parents, but beyond those two groups, meh…

    I will agree with the assertion that Epstein appears to be unqualified to be a teacher, though.

    ReplyReply
  25. MarkedMan says:

    @Barry: @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I will agree with the assertion that Epstein appears to be unqualified to be a teacher, though.

    I think we can both agree this is the nut of the issue. You hire someone with no known qualifications to a position involving fourteen year old girls and it turns out he is a serial abuser of fourteen year old girls. This is, at best, highly suspicious. It may be a lapse in judgement, or it may be something worse. But it is not “nothing to see here”.

    ReplyReply
  26. MarkedMan says:

    @mattbernius:

    Honestly on this one, the reversal on direction came after the DOJ ethics review board felt there was no need for recusal.

    Wait, is this right? My understanding was that Barr was extremely lawyerly about this. He said he had “consulted” the ethics review board. I thought he had left out any mention as to what they concluded. This is not a minor point. He did the same thing when it came to recusing himself from the Mueller investigation. He said that he had consulted the ethics board but left out that they had told him to recuse.

    ReplyReply
  27. Ken_L says:

    Acosta is obviously no Trump politician. He should have fronted the media in a belligerent confrontation, accusing them of spreading fake news. He should have bellowed that he was the victim of a conspiracy by friends of the Clintons, who had travelled to Epsetin’s island 26 times as proved by flight logs*. Not only would Trump have not wanted to fire him, his cult wouldn’t have allowed it.

    *This is, of course, a complete fabrication. However it is received wisdom within the Trump cult to the extent that anyone who questions it is met with patronising ridicule.

    ReplyReply
  28. Guarneri says:

    @michael reynolds:

    How are those dudes in Virginia doing? Resigned yet? Oh, wait….

    Have the Democrats renounced Bill Clinton yet? Let me Google that….

    ReplyReply
  29. dazedandconfused says:

    An interesting article delving into the mystery of how Epstein made his money.

    http://nymag.com/intelligencer/amp/2019/07/hedge-funders-have-some-thoughts-on-what-epstein-was-doing.html

    Speculation is he may have been running a honey-trap blackmail operation, targeting wealthy investors. Seems plausible.

    The really nasty thing about such an operation is the victims, aside from the girls he used, would be extremely unlikely to EVER rat him out. Who knows? He might have had some high government people in his back pocket, people who could intimidate a toady like Acosta.

    If true I think it unlikely he targeted Trump. First off Epstein was after investors, not borrowers, and certainly not deadbeat borrowers. Second, Trump is not the sort of person a con-man views as an easy mark, no matter how gullible. Trump is bellicose and impulsive, he has no fear of publicity, and he had fixers like Cohen and that worm who runs the National Enquirer.

    Not worth the risk, not with Wall Street full of easy marks.

    What was Epstein doing at Mar A Lago? Probably looking for targets, and Trump would have viewed Epstein as a potential lender. At the point Trump become aware that Epstein was hanging around to prey on his own suckers and/or would not ever be lending Trump Inc money he would have chucked Epstein out. Con men are good at spotting each other.

    ReplyReply

Speak Your Mind

*