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Labor Secretary Acosta Resigns amid Backlash over Handling of Epstein Sex-Abuse Case

U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta answers questions from reporters on his involvement in a non-prosecution agreement with financier Jeffrey Epstein, who has now been charged with sex trafficking in underage girls, at the Labor Department in Washington, D.C., July 10, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta resigned Friday amid growing backlash over his handling of the 2008 sex-abuse case against billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House Friday morning, Acosta said he offered to resign to spare the administration from any further distractions associated with the mounting scandal surrounding his prosecution of Epstein in 2008.

“I thought the right thing was to step aside,” Acosta said.

President Trump, standing next to Acosta, praised him as a “great labor secretary, not a good one.”

The White House said Acosta’s deputy, Pattrick Pizzella, will take over as acting secretary of labor.

The announcement comes just two days after Acosta held a press conference to push back on the many critics in Congress and the media who have argued that he failed Epstein’s victims as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida by offering a non-prosecution agreement that required just a 13-month jail sentence.

During the press conference, Acosta blamed the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office for the lenient sentence, arguing that his office stepped in late in the prosecution and secured the best deal possible to prevent the state from letting Epstein off with no jail time.

“The Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office was ready to let Epstein walk free. No jail time, nothing,” Acosta told reporters at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. “Prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable and they became involved. . . . Our prosecutors, as this 2008 article recounts, presented the ultimatum: plead guilty to more serious charges — charges that require jail time, registration, and restitution — or we’d roll the dice and bring a federal indictment. Without the work of prosecutors, Epstein would have gotten away with just that state charge.”

Former Palm Beach state attorney Barry Krischer responded after the press conference, accusing Acosta of trying to “rewrite history” by omitting the fact that he could have filed separate federal charges if he was so inclined.

“I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong,” Krischer said in a statement. “The US Attorney’s Office produced a 53-page indictment that was abandoned after secret negotiations between Mr. Epstein’s lawyers and Mr. Acosta. The State Attorney’s Office was not a party to those meetings or negotiations, and definitely had no part in the federal Non-Prosecution Agreement and the unusual confidentiality arrangement that kept everything hidden from the victims.”

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