US Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta announced his resignation Friday amid renewed criticism concerning his handling of a sex crimes case against Wall Street billionaire Jeffrey Epstein during Acosta’s tenure as US Attorney in Miami.
Though Acosta’s involvement in the Epstein case was a matter of controversy during his March 2017 confirmation hearing, the issue gained renewed public attention when Epstein was arrested on Saturday after the Southern District of New York unsealed a new criminal indictment charging him with federal sex trafficking charges. Epstein pleaded not guilty to these charges on Monday.
Epstein has been accused of operating a sex trafficking ring and sexually assaulting dozens of minors. In 2008 Acosta and his team reached a plea agreement with Epstein that distilled these accusations into two prostitution charges and arranged for Epstein to avoid a federal trial and spend 13 months in a private wing of a Palm Beach county jail with six days of work release to his office each week. Earlier this year a federal judge ruled that Acosta and the other Miami prosecutors who handled Epstein’s case had violated federal law by sealing Epstein’s plea agreement so that his victims could not see its terms or speak at his sentencing.
Following Epstein’s arrest, Acosta defended his role in arranging the plea agreement at a press conference Wednesday, noting that society’s treatment of victims of sexual abuse has shifted over the past decade. He also praised the federal prosecutors’ efforts, calling Epstein’s crimes “horrific” and stating that “[n]ow that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
Nevertheless, Acosta faced mounting calls for his resignation, predominately from Democrats. In his Friday announcement, Acosta stated that he would be stepping down because President Donald Trump’s agenda “must avoid any distractions.” Acosta’s resignation will take effect next Friday, after which point Deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella will serve as acting US Labor Secretary until Acosta’s replacement can be confirmed.