Democratic lawmakers and sexual abuse survivors have called for President Donald Trump’s labor secretary, Alex Acosta, to resign from his Cabinet post over a controversial 2008 plea deal he made with billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The deal, approved by Acosta while he was serving as Miami’s top federal prosecutor, allowed Epstein ― who was accused of sexually assaulting dozens of underage girls at his Palm Beach mansion ― to avoid federal prosecution and a possible life sentence. The financier ended up serving only 13 months in prison, a large chunk of which was spent in an office as part of a work-release program.
The plea deal ― and the role Acosta played in it ― has come under renewed scrutiny in recent days following the decision by federal prosecutors in New York to revive the sex crimes case against Epstein.
Epstein, 66, who was arrested in New Jersey on Saturday, faces new charges accusing him of operating a sex trafficking scheme in Manhattan and Palm Beach between 2002 to 2005. Prosecutors claim Epstein “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls,” some as young as 14, by “enticing them to engage in sex acts with him in exchange for money.” Epstein, they said, “perpetuated this abuse in similar ways” in both New York and Florida.
Following the unsealing of the new charges, to which Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday, several Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), called for Acosta to step down.
Pelosi said Acosta, who has served as Trump’s labor secretary since 2017, “engaged in an unconscionable agreement” with Epstein ― a deal she noted had been kept secret from his victims.
“This was known by [President Trump] when he appointed him to the Cabinet,” Pelosi added.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was among a group of Democrats who urged Acosta to resign over the plea bargain earlier this year, reiterated that demand this week.
“A big part of his job is protecting workers and children from exploitation, yet he has demonstrated that he has utter disregard for victims and instead his priority is to protect sexual predators,” Wasserman Schultz said in an interview with The Guardian.
Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) told The Washington Post that “Alex Acosta has some major reckoning to do.”
On Monday, an advocacy group for survivors of clergy abuse said in a statement that it was joining “the chorus of those calling” for Acosta’s resignation.
“If children are to be safe from sexual violence, those who help minimize these crimes must be punished, not promoted,” said the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
“As head of the Labor Department, Secretary Acosta plays a critical role in the monitoring of crimes like sex trafficking. We simply cannot believe that he can be effective in that role with a cloud ― and history ― like this over his head,” the group added.
Neither Trump nor Acosta has commented publicly about the new Epstein charges or the calls for the labor secretary to quit.
“The next 72 hours are critical for Acosta,” an unnamed former Trump adviser told Politico on Monday of the official’s fate.
“The way to stay in this administration is to stay under the radar, out of the news and be quiet,” a second former Trump adviser told the outlet. “POTUS won’t like it if it lingers.”