In the wake of the politically connected multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein being charged with federal sex trafficking crimes involving minors on Monday, congressional Democrats are calling for the resignation of a top cabinet member of President Donald Trump, who years ago was involved in offering Epstein an alleged lenient plea deal for similar crimes.
Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida when in 2007, he was reportedly involved in a secret non-prosecution deal offered by prosecutors in exchange for Epstein pleading guilty to one state charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution for forgoing federal charges.
Epstein has ties to Trump, in addition to many other political and public figures, that stem back decades. Now, Democrats are calling for the Acosta to either resign or be fired, with some ratcheting up previous resignation demands.
"[Secretary Acosta] must step down," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wrote on Twitter Monday night. "As U.S. Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/ Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice. This was known by @POTUS when he appointed him to the cabinet."
The Senate's top Democrat, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, demanded on the chamber floor in a speech that if Acosta won't step aside, he should be fired by Trump. He further said the Justice Department should release the results of a review it conducted of Acosta's handling of the case and that the president "needs to answer for statements he has made about his relationship with Mr. Epstein."
In 2002, Trump told New York magazine: "I've known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. 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. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life."
The financier was once a member of the president's exclusive Mar-a-Lago club in South Florida—until he was kicked out for allegedly sexually assaulting an underage girl, according to court documents. The two men have also dined together at one another's homes and Trump has flown on Epstein's private jet.
"The president needs to answer for this," Schumer said. "And 'I don't recall' is not an acceptable answer in this case, particularly since president trump appointed Mr. Acosta to such a powerful position."
Despite the past praise and social connections, Trump distanced himself from Epstein while speaking to reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday.
"I had a falling out with him a long time ago... I don't think I've spoken to him for 15 years," he said. "I was not a fan of his. That I can tell you."
Trump also defended Acosta, saying he's been "an excellent secretary of labor" and that he felt "very badly" for him.
"I do hear there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him," he said of the agreement extended to Epstein by Acosta and other prosecutors. "You're talking about a long time ago. And again it was a decision made, I think, not by him but by a lot of people."
Representative Donna Shalala, a South Florida Democrat with a seat on the House panel that oversees the Labor Department, also called on Acosta to step aside.
"Sec. Acosta swore an oath to faithfully discharge the duties of his office," she wrote on Twitter. "In failing to vigorously prosecute serial child predator Jeffrey Epstein, Sec. Acosta abrogated his duty as a prosecutor and the chief federal law enforcement officer in South Florida. He must resign."
Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, Representative Katherine Clark, renewed a previous demand for Acosta's ouster.
"I said it in April and I'll say it again," the Massachusetts lawmaker tweeted. "[Secretary Acosta] must resign. How can we expect him to look out for the American people after he chose to protect Jeffrey Epstein instead of defending his victims?"
But the calls for the Trump cabinet member's resignation do not cross party lines, neither do they resonate among the Republican or Democratic senators who voted to confirm Acosta in April 2017. Republicans have remained largely silent on the matter, with some defending Acosta and his record as Labor secretary. The Democrats who voted to confirm Acosta have also been mute, aside from the few who defended him on Monday.
"If he made a mistake or a judgment call or something like that, does that affect the way he's doing his job now? I'm going to basically judge him on what job he's doing and how he's doing it," West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, one of eight Democrats to vote for Acosta, told Politico. "I'm not getting into that feeding frenzy."
A federal judge ruled in February that the plea deal Acosta and his team offered Epstein, which resulted in an 18-month prison sentence and the ability to come and go for work, was illegal because it failed to notify the dozens of alleged underage victims of the agreement. Epstein served only 13 months.
Already a registered sex offender due to his previous crimes, Epstein, 66, was charged Monday for sex trafficking crimes involving "dozens of minor girls," the indictment said.
"In order to maintain and increase his supply of victims, Epstein also paid certain of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused by Epstein," the indictment continued. "In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit."
Prosecutors further accused Epstein of offering women and minors "hundreds of dollars in cash" for massages and sexual acts.
In a series of tweets, Acosta defended the mild sentence that Epstein previously received under his attorney's office in Miami.
"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," Acosta wrote. "Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice."
Original story here.