The conservative-leaning Democrat was asked in a CNN interview about the controversy surrounding Acosta, who as a federal prosecutor had once cut a sweetheart plea deal with accused sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
“Knowing what we know today, if it all proves to be accurate ... then I would not have supported him, and I’m not even sure Alex would have made it through the vetting process,” Manchin said. “That didn’t come out till after he had already been confirmed.”
“If it proves accurate, I’d have made a mistake and I would not have voted for Alex,” Manchin added.
It’s not the first time the centrist senator from West Virginia, who often votes in favor of Trump’s nominees, has expressed second thoughts about supporting one of the president’s Cabinet members. In May, after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, for example, Manchin said he felt “buyer’s remorse” about voting to confirm Bill Barr as Trump’s attorney general.
Acosta indicated at a press conference Wednesday that he does not intend to step down despite a growing chorus of calls for his resignation over the 2007 deal with Epstein, which helped the wealthy financier avoid charges and keep under wraps the details of allegations that he had raped or abused dozens of young girls in his Florida mansion. Under the deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting underage girls for prostitution and registered as a sex offender, but avoided a lengthy prison sentence.
“There was a value to a sure guilty plea,” Acosta said Wednesday, defending the 2007 deal. “We believe that we proceeded appropriately.”
According to new charges brought earlier this week, prosecutors alleged Epstein used his victims to recruit other minors to sexually abuse and kept a trove of nude photographs of girls even after being convicted in 2008. The new details have brought fresh scrutiny to Acosta’s handling of the case, as well as calls for his ouster from top congressional Democrats and 2020 presidential candidates.
Manchin wasn’t the only Democrat who backed Acosta for the Cabinet role, however. Seven other Democrats also voted to confirm him in April 2017.
“As a former Attorney General of Nevada who has fought against the sexual exploitation of women and children, it’s clear to me that Secretary Acosta must resign,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who also voted for the labor secretary, said in a statement.
“If I had had the information, I wouldn’t have” voted for Acosta, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told HuffPost on Tuesday.
But the existence of the deal was already known at the time of the vote. The Miami Herald had raised questions about it in March 2017, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) had grilled Acosta about whether it was too lenient during his confirmation hearings.