Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta defended his handling of a 2008 deal with Jeffrey Epstein that allowed the disgraced money manager to escape federal prosecution for sex crimes and plead guilty to two state charges. He would serve just 13 months in jail as a part of what has been called a “sweetheart” deal.
Acosta, a former U.S. Attorney in Florida, said his office did not become involved in the case until it became clear that Florida prosecutors were “ready to let Epstein walk free.” Once the Feds got to work, he said, they were faced with two bad choices.
A trial, he said, would have been a “roll of the dice,” and he wanted to ensure that Epstein, who was hit with new sex trafficking charges Monday in New York, landed behind bars. He also insisted that Epstein register as a sex offender and provide his victims with a means to seek restitution. The deal was not ideal, Acosta insisted, but he agreed to it to make sure the well-connected Epstein got jail time.
“Without the work of our prosecutors, Epstein would have just gotten away,” Acosta said.
Acosta also blamed the state of Florida for the conditions of Epstein’s incarceration. The expectation when the deal was cut, Acosta said, was that Epstein would serve all 18 months of his sentence in a prison cell. Instead, he was locked up for only 13 months and spent 12 hours a day, six days a week, on work release. Acosta called that arrangement “BS” and said the outrage over Epstein’s shortened, cushy sentence “is totally appropriate.”
Acosta’s appearance before the press comes amid escalating calls for his resignation from Democrats. Wednesday, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings sent a letter to Acosta requesting testimony on his role in the Epstein case.
“Your testimony is even more critical now that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York unsealed a new indictment earlier this week outlining a host of additional charges against Mr. Epstein, including luring dozens of teenage girls to his homes in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida, and paying them to engage in sexual activity with him,” Cummings wrote.
Republicans, meanwhile, have stood by the Labor Secretary. On Tuesday, President Trump publicly defended him. “I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.
Asked about his relationship with Trump Wednesday, Acosta said it is “outstanding.” He added that the purpose of the press conference was not to save his job.