Democratic Party leaders say Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta should resign because of his role in a 2008 plea deal that let a wealthy financier escape prison time for allegedly molesting dozens of teenage girls.
Democratic Party leaders on Tuesday called for the resignation of President Donald Trump's secretary of labour over a secret plea deal he made a decade ago with a wealthy hedge fund manager accused of sexually abusing young girls.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, 50, was serving as a federal prosecutor in Florida when his office entered into the controversial plea agreement with financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Epstein, 66, was charged on Monday by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.
The well-connected Epstein, whose friends have included Trump, former president Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, faced similar charges in Florida a decade ago but managed to escape a stiff sentence through the plea agreement with Acosta's office.
The two top Democrats in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, both called for Acosta's resignation.
"As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice," Pelosi said on Twitter. "This was known by [President Trump] when he appointed him to the cabinet. #AcostaResign."
.@SecretaryAcosta must step down. As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/ Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice. This was known by @POTUS when he appointed him to the cabinet. #AcostaResign— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) July 9, 2019
"Epstein should have been behind bars years ago but unfortunately Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta cut Epstein a sweetheart deal," Schumer said.
Jeffrey Epstein should have been behind bars years ago as a serial sex trafficker of children.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 9, 2019
But unfortunately as a U.S. Attorney in Florida in 2008, @SecretaryAcosta chose to let Epstein off easy.
Acosta must resign. If he refuses, @realDonaldTrump should fire him.
'Not a fan of his'
Trump told reporters on Tuesday that Acosta has been an "excellent secretary of labour."
"The rest of it, we will have to look at," Trump said. "We will have to look at it very carefully. But you're talking about a long time ago."
Trump described Epstein as a "terrific guy" in a 2002 New York magazine article, but he said on Tuesday that he was "not a fan of his."
"I had a falling out with him a long time ago," Trump said without elaborating. "I don't think I've spoken to him for 15 years.
"I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you," he said.
Acosta on Tuesday welcomed the renewed prosecution of Epstein.
"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," Acosta tweeted.
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.— Secretary Acosta (@SecretaryAcosta) July 9, 2019
"Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice," he said.
The plea deal was kept secret from Epstein's victims until his sentencing. Under the deal, he pleaded guilty to a state charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor and served 13 months in a county jail.
Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to the New York charges which carry a maximum of 45 years in prison. A bail hearing was set for Thursday.
According to prosecutors, Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage girls at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005. Some were as young as 14.