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Labor secretary defends role in Epstein sexual abuse scandal

Jul 10, 2019, 12:57 PM
labor secretary alex acosta jeffrey epstein...
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is expected to make a statement amid renewed scrutiny of his role securing a sweetheart deal for Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago. Photo: Getty/Palm Beach Co Sheriff/AP

(CNN) — Labor Secretary Alex Acosta offered a defense of his actions related to Jeffrey Epstein’s prosecution a decade ago, telling reporters on Wednesday that his office stepped in when state prosecutors appeared prepared to “let him walk.”

Acosta has been forced to defend himself against accusations of prosecutorial malfeasance amid renewed scrutiny of his role in securing a sweetheart deal for Epstein more than a decade ago.

He insisted Wednesday that his office had secured a reasonable sentence facing an uncertain trial with reluctant witnesses.

“Facts are important and facts are being overlooked,” Acosta told reporters at the Labor Department in Washington. “These cases are complex, especially when they involve children.”

Acosta is not expected to resign, an administration official said.

The Epstein case burst back into headlines this week after the financier was charged with having allegedly operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls.

During a phone call Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump instructed his labor secretary to hold the press availability, two people familiar tell CNN.

As a US attorney in Florida more than a decade ago, Acosta negotiated a non-prosecution deal with the multimillionaire Epstein for similar charges, described as a “deal of a lifetime” by an investigative report in the Miami Herald last year.

Epstein ultimately served only 13 months and avoided a federal trial, though he did have to register as a sex offender. A number of Democrats, including many contending for the 2020 presidential nomination, have called on Acosta to resign.

Earlier Wednesday, a top administration official suggested Acosta would address the matter and provide more information amid the uproar.

“I think that Alex will probably be sharing more information with you all,” Marc Short, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “And as you heard Alex say yesterday, we welcome the fact that there’s additional evidence that can be prosecuted, the crimes and atrocities, and certainly should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Trump said on Tuesday he would look into the matter, but insisted Acosta had served him well as labor secretary. He has privately said he has confidence in Acosta, according to people familiar with his remarks.

Trump said Tuesday that “a lot” of people were involved in the 2008 case in addition to Acosta.

“I can only say this from what I know and what I do know is that he’s been a great, really great secretary of labor,” Trump said. “The rest, we’ll have to look at it, we’ll have to look at it very carefully. But you’re talking about a long time ago and again it was a decision made, I think, not by him but by a lot of people. So we’re going to look at it very carefully.”

However, Trump’s associates believe that confidence could disappear quickly. The President’s longtime friend Chris Ruddy told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday that he believes Acosta will be out in a matter of weeks, though he said he has not spoken to Trump about the matter.

Acosta’s future in the Trump administration is likely to depend on news coverage of his role in Epstein’s plea agreement and how loud the calls for his resignation become, according to people close to Trump.

Acosta does not have a wealth of support in the West Wing and has taken on a low profile, according to officials, so it could be more difficult for him to hang on. But Trump has previously been wary of firing Cabinet officials because it fuels the sense his administration is in chaos.

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Labor secretary defends role in Epstein sexual abuse scandal