Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta confronted a barrage of tough questions on Capitol Hill Wednesday about his 2008 plea agreement with billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Testifying before a House appropriations panel, Acosta was asked repeatedly about the 2008 non-prosecution agreement, which Acosta negotiated when he was U.S. attorney for southern Florida.
The agreement resulted in Epstein pleading guilty in state court to two counts of felony prostitution and serving only 13 months of an 18-month sentence, with daily furloughs so Epstein could go to his office. Epstein was also required to register as a sex offender and to pay restitution to three dozen victims.
Wednesday's hearing marked the first time that Acosta addressed the controversy publicly since a federal judge ruled in February that his failure to notify Epstein's victims of the plea deal before it was finalized violated the 2004 Crime Victims' Rights Act.
Asked by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) Wednesday whether he could still lead the Labor Department in light of the controversy, Acosta sat in stunned silence for several seconds.
“Is that a question?” he finally said.
Acosta push backed on House Democrats' assertions that Epstein was let off too easy for his crimes. The case came to him, he said, after a state grand jury recommended that only one charge be filed against Epstein, one that would have resulted in no jail time, no restitution to victims, and no registration as a sex offender.
“At the end of the day Mr. Epstein went to jail,” Acosta said. “Mr. Epstein was incarcerated, he registered as a sex offender, the world was put on notice that he was a sex offender, and the victims received restitution.“
Epstein has been accused of molesting scores of underage girls, some as young as 13, using a network of associates to lure them to his home. Acosta’s deal extended immunity to “any potential co-conspirators in the crimes,“ some of them still unidentified.
Acosta said the state of Florida's decision to grant Epstein daily furloughs was out of his control.
“I’ve been on record as condemning the terms of his incarceration,” Acosta said. “I understand why folks are upset. That was Florida law, that was not a federal decision.”
But that answer didn’t persuade committee Democrats, who said Acosta was deflecting blame.
“He put the blame supposedly on the state attorney in Palm Beach County,” Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) told POLITICO after the hearing. “I do not believe that’s what happened. And I can tell you just from things that I know, I don’t think that’s the case.“
“I’m not satisfied yet with getting to the bottom of this, and I don’t think my community would be,” Frankel added.
Acosta has faced mounting criticism from congressional Democrats since the February ruling against the plea deal. Last month a dozen House members asked Attorney General William Barr to re-open it and to make public the findings of an investigation into whether Acosta committed professional misconduct by DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility. The OPR rarely makes its findings public, and does not have the authority to bring criminal charges.
Original story here.