His resignation followed a wave of new information about the alleged crimes of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, for whom Acosta helped broker a sweetheart plea deal more than a decade ago.
Trump said it was Acosta’s decision to step down. The president signaled his support for the labor secretary earlier this week, telling reporters he felt “very badly” for him “because I’ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job.”
“I feel very badly about that whole situation. But we’re going to be looking at that and looking at it very closely,” Trump said.
Acosta reiterated that point during a press conference on Wednesday, saying Trump “has publicly made clear that I’ve got his support.” He also defended the Epstein deal, saying, “We believe that we proceeded appropriately.”
“I want to thank Alex Acosta. He was a great great secretary,” Trump said Friday, before shaking Acosta’s hand.
The president also reiterated that the decision was “him, not me” and seemed to defend the Epstein plea deal: “He made a deal that people were happy with and then 12 years later, they’re not happy with it.” (The deal was kept secret from Epstein’s accusers at the time.)
Trump said that Patrick Pizzella, Acosta’s deputy, “will do the job. Highly recommended by Alex. Going to be acting. He’s already been told.”
Epstein was arrested when his private jet landed at a New Jersey airport July 6. He faces new charges, brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, for allegedly recruiting and trafficking dozens of minors in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005, then molesting and sexually abusing them.
The allegations are similar to those federal prosecutors in Miami brought in 2007 when Acosta, who was then a U.S. attorney, helped draft a nonprosecution agreement for Epstein without notifying his alleged victims. In February, a federal judge ruled that federal prosecutors, including Acosta, broke the law by signing the agreement.
The agreement granted Epstein immunity from federal prosecution. The powerful former hedge fund manager stood to face life imprisonment for trafficking and sexually abusing underage girls for at least six years, according to a Miami Herald investigation.
But under the nonprosecution agreement, Epstein was sentenced to just 18 months in county jail after he pleaded guilty to two lesser prostitution charges, and ultimately served only 13 months. The agreement also permitted Epstein to leave jail for 12 hours a day, six days a week, so he could continue working.
Women who say they were molested by Epstein have come forward following his arrest, describing being recruited and groomed by Epstein’s associates when they were young teenagers.
Jennifer Araoz told NBC News she was just 14 when a woman representing Epstein approached her outside her New York City performing arts high school and promised to help her become an actress.
In 2002, when she was 15, she says the wealthy financier raped her.
“I was so young that I was worried that somehow I would get in trouble,” Araoz said on the “Today” show, explaining why she didn’t alert anyone at the time. “I was really frightened of Epstein. He knew a lot of powerful people and I didn’t know what he could do to me, and I wasn’t sure that anyone could protect me.”
Another woman, Courtney Wild, told ABC News she “never felt like the U.S. attorney was on my side,” referring to Acosta’s handling of the case in Florida years earlier.
While at least one former federal prosecutor described the deal as “completely unprecedented” in its leniency, Acosta has continued to defend it:
Trump nominated Acosta for labor secretary after businessman Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration amid accusations that he abused his ex-wife during their marriage. The president also floated the idea that Acosta might replace former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Following the new charges against Epstein, many people called for Acosta’s resignation, including lawmakers and abuse survivors. Some of the most prominent voices included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and 2020 candidates Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former Housing Secretary Julián Castro and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.