President Trump’s Labor Secretary Alex Acosta faces scrutiny this week over a 2008 plea deal his office made with Jeffrey Epstein, while Acosta was U.S. Attorney in Florida.
Jeffrey Epstein, a New York-based billionaire and well-known financier, was arraigned in New York, Tuesday, July 9, on charges of sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. If convicted, Epstein could face up to 45 years in federal prison.
A 14-page indictment, released by the US Attorney’s office of the Southern District of New York, on Monday, July 8, alleges that, between 2002 and 2005, Epstein coordinated a sex-trafficking ring that paid dozens of under-age female minors, some as young as 14 years old. Epstein is alleged to have manipulated the girls to perform sex acts with him at his residences in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida.
Epstein, age 66, could have faced federal charges for these alleged crimes as early as 2007, when Epstein was apprehended in Florida. At the time, a federal investigation had already identified 36 underage female victims.
However, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Florida, led by Acosta, ultimately gave Epstein a plea deal that removed federal charges. In return, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges. He then served a 13-month jail sentence, with daily work leave, and registered as a sex offender in Florida.
The Florida plea deal also blocked further charges being sought against alleged co-conspirators in the sex-trafficking ring.
As reported by NBC News, President Trump had a private phone call with Acosta on Tuesday, during which he encouraged Acosta to answer questions about his handling of Epstein’s case.
Briefing the media
Acosta held a press briefing, on Wednesday afternoon, July 10, during which he defended the deal. “We believe we proceeded appropriately….We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” Acosta said.
“There’s a big gulf between sufficient evidence to go to trial and sufficient evidence in the confidence of the outcome of that trial,” he continued.
“There was value to getting a guilty plea and having him register. The world needed to be on notice that he was a sexual predator.”
A number of Democratic lawmakers, including candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination, have begun calling for Acosta to resign as Labor Secretary.
Speaking on the Senate Floor, Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “If [Acosta] refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him.”
After Wednesday’s press briefing, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) remained stern. “Nothing said by Secretary Acosta at his press conference changes the verdict: he must go,” said Blumenthal.
New York federal prosecutors are bringing their current case against Epstein with the expectation that the U.S. attorney’s office in New York will not be limited by the plea deal made in Florida.