Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Labor, told reporters Friday morning he would be resigning from the administration amid the controversy over his role in financier Jeffrey Epstein’s plea deal.
Acosta made the announcement alongside Trump outside the White House Friday morning, telling reporters he did not think "it is right or fair” for the focus to fall on him, adding “I thought the right thing was to step aside.”
Acosta also criticized the media for focusing on a case “that is over 12 years old," adding that he didn’t think it was fair for the Department of Labor “to have Epstein as the focus.”
“He made a deal that people were happy with, and then 12 years later they’re not happy with it," Trump said. “You’ll have to figure all of that out. But the fact is, he has been a fantastic secretary of labor."
Acosta’s resignation is effective next Friday, July 19. Patrick Pizzella, the deputy secretary of labor, will take over as acting labor secretary.
Despite the kind words, Acosta has reportedly had a rocky tenure as labor secretary. In May, Axios reported that the White House ordered Acosta to fire Nick Geale, his then chief of staff, due to explosive tirades that reportedly hurt morale inside the agency. And senior White House officials had complained to reporters that under Acosta, the Labor Department slow-walked the administration’s aggressive deregulation efforts.
Acosta’s announcement comes just days after he addressed calls for him to resign following revelations about his role in a sweetheart plea deal on state charges offered to financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is facing new federal charges in New York for allegedly running a sex-trafficking ring. At the time, Acosta was the top federal prosecutor in Miami.
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Trump used the announcement to further address his own relationship with Epstein, telling reporters he had a fallout with the financier more than a decade ago.
“Jeffrey Epstein was not somebody that I respected. I threw him out. In fact I think the great James Patterson, who’s a member of Mar-a-Lago, made a statement yesterday, that many years ago I threw him out," Trump told reporters. “I’m not a fan of Jeffrey Epstein.”
“I didn’t want anything to do with him," Trump added. "That was many, many years ago. It shows you one thing — that I have good taste.”
Trump’s tone about Epstein is much different now that in 2002, when he told New York magazine Epstein was a “terrific guy” who was “fun to be with.”
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Trump told the magazine. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
Julie Brown, the Miami Herald journalist whose investigative reports about Epstein’s sweetheart deal were credited by prosecutors, said her only surprise was that Acosta didn’t step down sooner.
“I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner, to be honest with you. These questions has been out there since my series ran in November. He never responded. He never adequately explained the key questions in this case. And the press conference he had the other day was abominable,” Brown, a former Philadelphia Daily News staffer, said during an appearance on CNN.
“I think that he really didn’t think anyone was going to analyze this as closely as it has been," Brown added. “The truth always comes out.”
Epstein, who pleaded not guilty earlier this week to new charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy, will appear in federal court in Manhattan on Monday, where Judge Richard Berman will take up a bail proposal from Epstein’s lawyers.
Epstein has requested that Berman release him on substantial bond while he awaits trial, while prosecutors want him held in jail until his trial, telling the judge he poses “an extraordinary risk of flight and danger."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), chairman of Oversight and Reform Committee, issued a statement saying Acosta “did the right thing” by stepping down.
“Acosta did the right thing. The way he addressed the Epstein case and the way he treated these young ladies is extremely unfortunate," Cummings said in a statement. "I’m hopeful the President appoints someone who will be sensitive to women in workplace and do all things people need done for them in the Department of Labor. That is so important. But I think he did right thing.”