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Trump Defends Labor Secretary Acosta Over Epstein Plea Deal

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta speaks at an event in Bogotá, Colombia, in May. Acosta is coming under criticism for his actions in a sex trafficking case involving Jeffrey Epstein when Acosta was a U.S. attorney in Florida.
Gabriel Aponte
Getty Images for Concordia Summi
Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta speaks at an event in Bogotá, Colombia, in May. Acosta is coming under criticism for his actions in a sex trafficking case involving Jeffrey Epstein when Acosta was a U.S. attorney in Florida.

Updated at 2:47 p.m. ET

President Trump is standing by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, at least for now.

Acosta is facing calls for his resignation after new sex trafficking charges were filed against multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein on Monday.

Back in 2007, Acosta, who was then a U.S. attorney, oversaw a plea agreement that gave Epstein immunity from federal prosecution and allowed him to plead guilty to lesser state charges. At the time, Epstein was accused of sexually abusing young girls.

Asked about Acosta, Trump said the plea deal happened many years ago and that he did not think this was a decision that Acosta made on his own.

"What I do know is that he's been a really, really great secretary of labor. The rest of it, we will have to look at," Trump said.

Acosta defended his actions in a series of tweets on Tuesday.

"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 said.

On Monday, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced two sex trafficking charges against Epstein.

The indictment alleges that from at least 2002 to 2005, Epstein "enticed and recruited" underage girls to his Manhattan mansion and his estate in Palm Beach, Fla., to engage in sex acts with him, after which he would pay the victims hundreds of dollars. To "maintain and increase his supply of victims," Epstein paid some of the girls to recruit other victims, prosecutors say.

Trump denied any significant ties between Epstein and himself. In a 2002 New York magazine article, Trump was quoted describing Epstein as a "terrific guy." The magazine also quoted Trump as saying that Epstein "likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side."

Trump told reporters Tuesday: "I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. ... He was a fixture in Palm Beach."

But he added: "I had a falling out with him a long time ago; I don't think I've spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn't a fan."

Democrats have stepped up their calls for Acosta to step down.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Acosta to resign, saying, "It is now impossible for anyone to have confidence in Secretary Acosta's ability to lead the Department of Labor. If he refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him."

Schumer also called for the Justice Department to release the results of its review of Acosta's handling of the Epstein case and for Congress to hold hearings.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for Acosta to resign in a tweet on Monday night, saying "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."

The Senate's top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sidestepped a question about whether Acosta should step down.

"There's no question that the accusations against Epstein are horrendous and I think it's good news that they are being pursued further," said McConnell. "As to Secretary Acosta's continued service, he serves as the pleasure of the president and I'm inclined to defer to the president to make that decision."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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