Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.WASHINGTON — U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta will leave office next week following brutal coverage of his role in letting accused rapist Jeffrey Epstein off with a slap on the wrist, President Trump announced Friday morning.Trump, standing alongside Acosta on the White House’s South Lawn on Friday morning, said it was Acosta’s decision to leave. During the announcement, Trump repeated his praise of his “great labor secretary” and called him a “tremendous talent” — the latest defense of Acosta even as he was being shown the door.
The decision came after mounting questions over why Acosta had decided to offer Epstein a sweetheart plea deal more than a decade ago, when Acosta was U.S. Attorney in Miami. That agreement had been public before Acosta was confirmed, but it came back under the spotlight when prosecutors in New York arrested Epstein on new sex trafficking and conspiracy charges last weekend.Epstein stands accused of running a sex trafficking ring that allegedly victimized dozens of underage girls out of his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach from 2002 through 2005. He’s facing charges that could put him in jail for as long as 45 years. He has pleaded not guilty.READ: Women says Epstein raped her at 15: "He was like, 'It's OK. You're Fine'"As U.S. Attorney in Miami at the time, Acosta handled the original charges against Epstein. That led to a plea deal in which Epstein admitted guilt to lesser prostitution charges, served little more than a year in prison —and was allowed to leave during the day for work. The alleged victims then — also dozens of underage girls who had accused him of molestation and rape — weren’t notified of the plea deal until it went into effect, which legal experts say violated the victims' rights.Trump and Epstein had once been friends and partied together, though they had a falling out 15 years ago, and the president continued to publicly defend Acosta through the process, even as reports indicated he was growing increasingly concerned about how the story was being covered.
Trump said Friday that Acosta had “made a deal that people were happy with” — but that the situation had changed since then.READ: Trump and Epstein once hosted a party for "28 girls" at Mar-a-LagoAcosta’s departure comes at the end of a tumultuous week in which Trump pushed him to publicly defend himself over how he handled the original case. During a tense Wednesday press conference, Acosta delivered a fierce defense of his decision to offer Epstein the plea deal. He also shifted blame to the state attorney’s office even as he admitted that Epstein was a “bad man” who needs to be put away.”Still, Acosta would not admit he made any mistakes 11 years ago.
Cover image: Labor Secretary Alex Acosta speaks during a media availability at the Department of Labor, Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)