Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on Tuesday called for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign over his involvement in a secret plea deal given to billionaire and convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in 2008.
“Alex Acosta should resign as Labor Secretary,” Harris tweeted. “We need leaders committed to fighting for justice for survivors of abuse, not protecting predators.”
In 2008, Acosta, then a U.S. Attorney in Miami, approved a wildly lenient deal for Epstein, who was arrested on and later pleaded guilty to prostitution charges. Epstein ― who at the time was accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls at his Palm Beach home ― had to register as a sex offender but avoided federal prosecution and a possible life sentence.
The billionaire only served 13 months in prison ― a majority of which was spent in his office as part of a work-release program. The controversial plea deal was kept secret from Epstein’s alleged victims.
A judge ruled earlier this year that prosecutors working under Acosta broke the law by keeping the plea agreement secret from more than 30 of Epstein’s alleged victims.
Epstein, 66, was indicted Monday on child sex trafficking charges in New York City. The 14-page grand jury indictment accuses Epstein of paying dozens of female minors as young as 14 to perform sex acts on him in his New York and Florida homes between 2002 and 2005.
The indictment also resurfaced the 2008 plea deal and Acosta’s role in it.
Other Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have called for Acosta to step down, as have presidential hopefuls including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro.
“Since when do underage girl sex ring traffickers get to go to their office every day while they serve their time? The victims should have had a say,” Klobuchar tweeted Tuesday morning.
“That’s what the law says,” she added. “I didn’t vote for former Florida U.S. Attorney Acosta to begin with and he should step down.”
Acosta defended his plea deal in a series of tweets on Tuesday morning.
“The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence,” he wrote. “With the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator.”
“Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice,” Acosta added.