After federal prosecutors charged billionaire Jeffrey Epstein with sex trafficking in New York this weekend, the fallout threatens to dismantle the career of another player in Epstein’s story: Alexander Acosta, Trump’s secretary of labor.
Acosta, a former U.S. Attorney in Miami whose office negotiated a notoriously soft plea deal for Epstein in 2008, faces a wave of fresh scrutiny for his role in failing to bring Epstein to justice — and arguably allowing him to continue his conduct with underage girls.
On Monday night, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi became the highest-profile lawmaker to call for Acosta to resign.
“As U.S. Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/ Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice,” Pelosi wrote. A federal judge in Florida ruled in February that, by declining to notify Epstein’s victims of the plea agreement, prosecutors violated their rights under federal law.
Pelosi joined a handful of other House Democrats, including Florida Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson, along with California Rep. Ted Lieu, in questioning Acosta’s fitness for office.
The only senator to question Acosta about his involvement in the plea deal during Acosta’s confirmation hearing in 2017 was Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, and the Senate confirmed his appointment in April of that year.
The 66-year-old Epstein, who has long ties to political figures like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, was arrested this weekend on charges of sex trafficking minors and conspiracy. On Monday, he pleaded not guilty.
As U.S. Attorney in Miami, Acosta granted a secret non-prosecution agreement for Epstein in 2008, allowing him to avoid federal charges and a potential life sentence.
Though Epstein was accused of sexually abusing as many as 40 underage girls –– brought to his home by a group of “fixers” who scouted for them –– he served only 13 months in a private wing of a Palm Beach county jail under the terms of the deal. He was allowed to work in a “comfortable office” six days a week, though registered sex offenders in the county were prohibited from receiving work release.
In February, the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility opened an investigation “into allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved,” a letter from the agency says.
The charges against Epstein, unsealed Monday morning, further allege that Epstein operated a multi-state sex trafficking ring between 2002 and 2005. And before Epstein would return to his home in Palm Beach, Florida, prosecutors say his staff would ensure there were underage women waiting for him there.
A former Trump adviser told Politico on Monday that the next 72 hours are “critical” for Acosta. But, the source told Politico, “This is a settled matter for people in the White House.”
Cover: In this March 22, 2017, file photo, Labor secretary-designate Alex Acosta testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Judge Kenneth Marra ruled Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, that the victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein should have been consulted under federal law. Marra stopped short of invalidating the non-prosecution agreement but asked prosecutors and victims' lawyers to recommend in 15 days how to move forward. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)