Acosta has been under fire over the past week for the role he played in giving financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein a sweetheart plea deal in 2008. (He was the top federal prosecutor in Miami at the time.) The deal allowed Epstein, now facing sex-trafficking charges once again, to serve only 13 months in county jail and obtain immunity for any of his co-conspirators. The agreement — which included a work release that allowed Epstein to go to his office for 12 hours a day, six days a week — was also kept secret from his accusers.
Acosta defended the deal in a contentious press conference on Wednesday. "I wanted to help them," he told reporters at the Labor Department. "That is why we intervened. And that’s what the prosecutors of my office did — they insisted that he go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator."
But the press conference did little to quell the outrage. Top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, called for Acosta to be ousted, as did members of Congress and many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
Trump on Labor Secretary Acosta resignation: I just want to let you know, this was him, not me — because I'm with him. He's a tremendous talent. He's a Hispanic man. He went to Harvard. A great student...We're going to miss him. https://t.co/QFE2NfZJQj pic.twitter.com/AvBQti1V9o— POLITICO (@politico) July 12, 2019
Attorney Jack Scarola, who represents multiple Epstein accusers, blasted Acosta following Wednesday's press conference. "Secretary Acosta’s repeated reference to a criminal prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein as a 'roll of the dice' is grossly offensive. It demeans the credibility of the dozens of victim-witnesses available to testify against Epstein. It ignores the strength of the abundant corroborating evidence, including irrefutable documentary support," he said in a statement provided to Refinery29.
Scarola added: "It misrepresents the quality of the efforts of both local law enforcement officers and the FBI. Perhaps most importantly, it displays a totally unacceptable lack of confidence in the ability of jurors to distinguish fact from fiction. The truth is that the case against Jeffrey Epstein was an exceptionally strong one."
Epstein, 66, was arraigned on two sex trafficking-related charges in Manhattan federal court on Monday. He pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors said some of his accusers were as young as 14. Epstein, who said in 2002 he sees himself as someone who "invest[s] in people," has been linked in the past to powerful men such as President Trump, President Bill Clinton, and Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
Trump said Acosta resigned voluntarily. "I just want to let you know, this was him, not me — because I'm with him. He's a tremendous talent," he told reporters, adding, somewhat cringe-inducingly: "He's a Hispanic man. He went to Harvard. A great student... We're going to miss him."