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Labor Secretary Acosta resigns amid Epstein deal scrutiny

Updated July 12, 2019 - 6:36 pm

WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned Friday morning.

The beleaguered cabinet member, who had been under fire all week for a 2008 plea agreement he had brokered when he was a U.S. attorney that resulted in a scant 13-month sentence for super-rich sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, made the announcement as he stood by President Donald Trump, as Trump was about to board Marine One.

Trump hailed Acosta as “a great labor secretary, not a good one.” Acosta called Trump Friday morning to resign.

Acosta’s choice, Trump says

“This was him, not me,” Trump said of Acosta’s resignation. As for the Epstein non-prosecution agreement, Trump offered, “He made a deal that people were happy with and then 12 years later, they’re not happy with it.”

Acosta, the son of Cuban refugees who went on to attend Harvard and Harvard Law School, explained his decision as due to his belief that it was not “right and fair for this administration” to have the Epstein case as a focus.

‘Temporary trust’

“Cabinet positions are temporary trusts. It would be selfish for me to stay in this position,” Acosta noted. He wanted his department’s focus on the nation’s strong economy.

Acosta’s resignation will become effective a week from today. Deputy Secretary Patrick Pizzella will serve as acting Labor Secretary.

Pizzella, who once worked for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is considered more pro-business than Acosta.

On Tuesday as calls for Acosta’s resignation mounted, Trump told reporters that he considered Acosta an “excellent” labor secretary.

The next day, at Trump’s urging, Acosta held a one-hour press conference where he answered questions about the 2008 deal which seemed exceedingly generous after New York U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman unsealed a two-count indictment that could put Epstein in prison for 45 years if he is convicted. Epstein has pleaded not guilty.

Acosta answered questions about the non-prosecution agreement, which he argued spared the 30-plus underage victims from testifying against Epstein and required Epstein to admit guilt.

“How do you weigh those two if going to trial is viewed as a roll of the dice?” Acosta said. “The goal here was straightforward: Put Epstein behind bars; ensure that he registers as a sexual offender.”

But his answers were no match for a Miami Herald series, “Perversion of Justice,” and a federal judge’s finding in February that Acosta’s team broke the Crime Victims Rights Act by concealing the non-prosecution agreement and misleading victims about the possibility they would prosecute Epstein.

Federal Judge Kenneth Marra also faulted the deal for granting immunity to potential co-conspirators.

Asked about the expanded immunity at Thursday’s press conference, Acosta replied, “The focus really is on the top player. And that’s where our focus appropriately was.”

Protecting the abuser

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted out a petition calling for Acosta’s resignation, arguing, “As a prosecutor Acosta was supposed to vindicate young trafficking victims; instead he violated their trust and brushed their evidence aside to protect their abuser.”

After the announcement, presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke tweeted, “Acosta protected a child predator. He had to resign, but he never should have been appointed. Trump knew Acosta’s history when he nominated him. And the Republican Senate knew it when they confirmed him. We must hold all of them accountable.”

When reporters asked Trump about his 2002 statement to New York magazine that Epstein was a “terrific guy,” Trump said that the two had a falling out years ago and there had been a chill as other New Yorkers and Floridians hobnobbed with the financier. Trump added, “It shows you one thing, that I have good taste.”

Trump referred the press to a statement made by novelist James Patterson, who wrote a non-fiction book “Filthy Rich” about Epstein, his Palm Beach neighbor.

On Fox News this week, Patterson confirmed that he had learned that Trump had barred Epstein from Mar-a-Lago after Epstein had behaved inappropriately with young women.

“Trump was disgusted with Epstein,” said Sam Nunberg, an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign. “You can say a lot of things about Donald, but Donald was disgusted” with Epstein’s pursuit of young women. While Trump had been “cavalier” in his reference to Epstein liking beautiful women “on the younger side,” young to Trump “means 20s,” Nunberg added.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a former prosecutor and presidential hopeful, had no sympathy for Acosta. “He let this guy go with nothing but a simple, very light pat on the hand,” Harris told The View. She acknowledged that it is difficult to put minor victims on the stand, “but it is done every day.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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