U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned on Friday two days after the former prosecutor defended his handling of a much-criticized plea deal involving billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
“I do not think it is right and fair to have this administration’s Labor Department have Epstein (as) the focus,” he told reporters on the White House lawn, standing beside President Trump. “I told him that I felt the right thing was to step aside.”
Trump, who had backed Acosta earlier in the week, praised him as a “tremendous talent.” He also announced that Deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella would serve as acting director of the agency when Acosta formally leaves in one week.
Acosta has come under fire for the plea deal he struck with Epstein as a federal prosecutor. Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to felony solicitation of underage girls in state court in 2008, but during his 13-month sentence, Epstein was able to work in an office 12 hours a day, six days a week. The short sentence and work-release privileges granted to Epstein were concealed from the victims, and have since been criticized as excessively lenient.
In November, the Miami Herald reported that Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney in Florida at the time, brokered the plea deal, which has received new scrutiny in light of the new federal charges filed against Epstein on Monday.
Federal prosecutors have said that Epstein — a politically connected businessman who has socialized with Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew — sexually abused dozens of underage girls and paid many of them to recruit others. Investigators also said they found “nude photographs of what appear to be underage girls” during a search of Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan mansion after his arrest.
Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the new charges.