In spite of growing public calls for Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to resign or be fired over a sweetheart plea deal he granted registered sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein while serving as a federal prosecutor in Florida, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday both deferred to President Donald Trump to decide his cabinet member’s future.
“Acosta shielded Epstein from the justice he deserved and kept victims voiceless for over a decade. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: it’s time for Acosta to go.”
—Rep. Barbara Lee
Renewed scrutiny of Acosta and the widely decried deal, which shielded Epstein from federal charges more than a decade ago, comes after the financier was arrested Saturday. In a federal indictment (pdf) unsealed Monday, prosecutors allege that over several years, “Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit in locations including New York and Palm Beach.” Epstein pleaded not guilty to the charges—one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex-trafficking conspiracy.
In a televised statement Tuesday, McConnell said that “there’s no question that the accusations against Epstein are horrendous and I think it’s good news that they’re being pursued further. As to Secretary Acosta’s continued service, he serves at the pleasure of the president, and I’m inclined to defer to the president to make that decision.”
Pelosi, for her part, turned to Twitter Monday night to denounce the “unconscionable agreement” that Acosta negotiated with Epstein’s attorneys and call on Acosta to resign from his current position in the Trump administration. However, the speaker suggested in comments to reporters Tuesday that she does not intend to take any steps to force out the labor secretary.
According to Politico‘s Heather Caygle, Pelosi dismissed the possibility of House Democrats launching an investigation or impeachment proceedings, saying that: “It’s up to the president, it’s his cabinet. We have a great deal of work to do here for the good of the American people and we have to focus on that.”
Pelosi’s comments on the issue left progressive political observers flummoxed:
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday that Acosta has “done a fantastic job” as labor secretary. Referencing the controversial deal, he said, “The rest of it, we’ll have to look at, we’ll have to look at it very carefully.”
Though the president is one of several well known, wealthy individuals who has been tied to Epstein, Trump tried to distance himself from the financier on Tuesday, adding:
Meanwhile, in a series of tweets, Acosta on Tuesday publicly defend himself on the issue.
“The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence. 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 wrote. “Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
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