Trump Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigns amid controversy over Epstein plea deal, new alleged victims come forward

Acosta had defended his role in the plea deal at a news conference Wednesday.

July 12, 2019, 11:40 AM

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta has resigned amid controversy over his role in a 2008 plea deal with accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

The resignation comes as ABC News has learned that nearly a dozen new alleged Epstein victims have come forward. Attorneys representing other alleged victims in the Epstein case say they’ve been contacted by the women, ABC News' Tom Llamas reported. On Monday, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, who is overseeing the case against Epstein for alleged crimes in New York, made a public plea for any additional victims to contact his office.

President Donald Trump said Friday that it was Acosta's decision to resign and not his as he spoke to reporters as he left the White House for a trip to Wisconsin.

Acosta was standing next to Trump as the president called him "a great labor secretary, not a good one."

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media with Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, July 12, 2019.
Andrew Harnik/AP

Trump said it was very sad to see him go but said Acosta told him he didn't want to distract form the strong economy and the work the administration is doing.

Acosta said he didn't think it was fair to have Epstein as the focus rather than "the incredible economy."

Trump repeated what he had said earlier this week about the financier he had called a "terrific guy" in a 2002 interview. "I'm not a fan of Jeffrey Epstein," Trump told reporters.

When asked by ABC News' Kyra Philips whether he knew Epstein was molesting young girls, Trump said no.

Just Wednesday, at a news conference he held to explain his role in the plea deal, Acosta had said he had an excellent relationship with Trump.

After the news conference, which Trump had directed Acosta to hold, the first reviews were lukewarm, according to senior level administration sources. One source close to the president said Trump’s initial reaction was surprised that Acosta did not say more about Epstein’s victims, however multiple sources insist the president did not want Acosta to leave his position.

Over the last few days, the president and Acosta had spoken routinely, sources said, and on Thursday the president and Acosta spoke and Acosta offered up the idea he resign because he felt the media coverage and calls for his resignation were causing a distraction.

Friday morning, Acosta called Trump and told him it was time to go and the president did not push back and accepted his resignation, according to sources. Acosta then headed to the White House. It is unclear what if anything changed the circumstances overnight.

President Trump’s senior staff had no idea any of this was happening until Trump and Acosta walked out of a meeting, Trump informed his team he accepted Acosta’s resignation and the two men walked out to cameras gathered on the South Lawn ahead of Trump’s departure.

President Donald Trump and U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta address the media at the White House in Washington, July 12, 2019.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

In that Wednesday news conference, Acosta defended his the deal with Epstein in a 2008 case in Florida that allowed him to serve a lesser sentence on state charges of prostitution.

"The goal here was straightforward," Acosta said. "Put Epstein behind bars, ensure he registered as a sexual offender, provide victims with a means to seek restitution, and protect the public by putting them on notice that a sexual predator was within their midst."

Acosta added, "We believe we proceeded appropriately."

When asked by ABC News' Tom Llamas whether Epstein's victims deserved an apology, Acosta responded by noting decisions the prosecutor in the case made to try to help victims secure financial restitution. He did not offer an apology.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta speaks during a media availability at the Department of Labor, July 10, 2019, in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP

"When it was finally clear that Epstein would comply with the agreement, she talks about how she made efforts to notify the victims," Acosta said.

Acosta has faced growing calls from top Democrats that he resign over his role in the controversial plea deal in Florida involving Epstein, arrested over the weekend on federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy in New York.

During his time heading the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, Acosta negotiated a plea deal that allowed Epstein to serve a 13-month sentence on state prostitution charges, avoiding more serious federal sex trafficking charges calling for a much longer prison term. While serving out his sentence in a private wing of the Palm Beach County Jail, Epstein was allowed out for work release 12 hours a day, six days a week. The deal, now under review by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, also gave Epstein and any alleged co-conspirators immunity from further federal prosecution in the Southern District of Florida.

PHOTO: In this handout file photo provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Jeffrey Epstein poses for a sex offender mugshot after being charged with procuring a minor for prostitution on July 25, 2013 in Fla
In this handout file photo provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Jeffrey Epstein poses for a sex offender mugshot after being charged with procuring a minor for prostitution on July 25, 2013 in Fla.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement via Getty Images, file

Acosta was asked Wednesday whether he would resign if the Office of Professional Responsibility found misconduct related to the case. Acosta said he would "clearly submit for an interview" but said he would refer to the office for further information the status of the review.

During the press conference, Acosta said that Epstein served more time than he would have under charges initially brought by the state as a result of his intervention in the state case. A state grand jury brought a single charge against Epstein that would have resulted in no jail time.

"Simply put, the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office was ready to let Epstein walk free, no jail time, nothing," Acosta said. "Prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable, and they became involved."

But in a statement released Wednesday evening, former Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer refuted Acosta's account. Krischer wrote that after the state grand jury returned a single count against Epstein, Acosta's office produced an indictment that was abandoned after "secret negations" between Epstein's lawyers and Acosta, that the State Attorney's Office was not a part of.

Acosta, who said his resignation would be effective July 19, was the only Hispanic member of Trump's Cabinet and speaks Spanish fluently. He is the son of Cuban refugees, a native of Miami, and first-generation college graduate, according to his biography on the Department of Labor's website.

"My parents left Cuba as refugees in search of freedom to make a better life in the greatest country in the world, the United States of America," he said in his resignation letter to Trump.

"They worked hard and wanted the best opportunities for their son and grandchildren, In one generation, their dreams were more than surpassed when you offered me the honor of a lifetime to serve as a member of your Cabinet, as Secretary of Labor," he said in the letter."

He said Friday that he hadn't met Trump before the president offered him the post after Trump's previous nominee, Andrew Puzder, was forced to withdraw.

Acosta received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his law degree from Harvard Law School. He later clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito when Alito was an appeals court judge. He has practiced law at Kirkland & Ellis, served as a Republican member of the National Labor Relations Board, and has been dean of the Florida International University School of Law.

In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and from 2005 to 2009 he served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, according to the website, and was twice named as named one of the nation’s 50 most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business magazine, the website biography reads.

ABC News' John Santucci, Aaron Katersky, James Hill and Kaitlyn Folmer contributed to this report.

Related Topics