President Donald Trump said Tuesday he feels “very badly” for Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, who is facing calls for his resignation over a controversial 2008 plea deal he made with billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, the president suggested that “what happened 12 or 15 years ago” shouldn’t reflect on Acosta now.
“I can tell you that for two and a half years he’s been just an excellent secretary of labor. He’s done a fantastic job,” Trump said. “I feel very badly actually for Secretary Acosta.”
Acosta was serving as Miami’s top federal prosecutor in 2008 when he approved a plea deal with Epstein that gave the financier only 13 months in prison, a large chunk of which he spent on work release. Epstein was accused of sexually assaulting dozens of underage girls at his Palm Beach mansion and, thanks to the plea deal, avoided both federal prosecution and a possible life sentence.
A federal judge this year ruled that federal prosecutors, working under Acosta in Miami, broke the law by keeping the deal secret from Epstein’s victims and their families.
Acosta’s role in the deal has come under renewed scrutiny this week after federal prosecutors in New York formally charged Epstein with the sex trafficking of minors. Epstein pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon.
The labor secretary is standing by his actions, saying in tweets on Tuesday that federal prosecutors made their decisions based on “the evidence available” over a decade ago.
Trump on Tuesday did not mention or offer sympathy to Epstein’s victims, some of whom were as young as 14 years old at the time of their alleged abuse. But he said he would be looking into Acosta’s handling of the case.
Democratic lawmakers and sexual abuse survivors are among those calling for Acosta to resign from his Cabinet position.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a tweet on Tuesday said Acosta “engaged in an unconscionable agreement” with Epstein and called for him to step down.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, also pushed for Acosta’s resignation and called on the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to publicize the results from its review of the labor secretary’s involvement in the deal.
“The newly released evidence of Epstein’s behavior involving dozens of children is sickening, is appalling, is despicable,” Schumer said. “Epstein should have been behind bars years ago.”
Schumer also demanded that the president “answer for his statements he has made about his relationship with Mr. Epstein.” Trump in 2002 called Epstein a “terrific guy” who liked women “on the younger side.”
The president told reporters on Tuesday he hadn’t spoken to Epstein in years and “was not a fan” of the billionaire.
“I had a falling out with him a long time ago, I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years,” Trump said. “I wasn’t a fan…I was not a fan of his.”