Tuesday 16 July 2019

Trump's labour chief resigns

Acosta quits over part in 2008 plea deal with billionaire sex-offender

Quitting: US President Donald Trump and Labour Secretary Alex Acosta announce the resignation at the White House yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Quitting: US President Donald Trump and Labour Secretary Alex Acosta announce the resignation at the White House yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Darlene Superville and Jill Colvin Washington

US Labour Secretary Alexander Acosta said yesterday he was resigning following renewed scrutiny of his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Esptein, who is accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.

President Donald Trump, with Mr Acosta at his side, made the announcement as he left the White House for a trip to Wisconsin and Ohio.

Mr Trump said Mr Acosta had been a "great" labour secretary. "I hate to see this happen," Mr Trump said. He said he did not ask Mr Acosta to leave the cabinet.

Mr Acosta said his resignation would be effective in seven days. Mr Acosta said he didn't think it was right for his handling of Epstein's case to distract from his work as secretary of labour.

"My point here today is we have an amazing economy and the focus needs to be on the economy [and] job creation," Mr Acosta said.

Mr Acosta was the US attorney in Miami when he oversaw a 2008 non-prosecution agreement with Epstein.

Epstein avoided federal charges, pleaded guilty to state charges and served 13 months in jail. Similar charges recently filed against Epstein by federal prosecutors in New York had put Mr Acosta's role in the 2008 deal under renewed scrutiny.

Top Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates had demanded that Mr Acosta resign over his handling of the agreement, which a federal judge has said violated federal law because Mr Acosta did not notify Epstein's victims of the arrangement. The Justice Department has been investigating.

Mr Trump initially defended Mr Acosta but said he'd look "very closely" his handling of the 2008 agreement.

The deal came under scrutiny earlier this year following reporting by the 'Miami Herald'.

Epstein (66) reached the deal to secretly end a federal sex abuse investigation involving at least 40 teenage girls that could have landed him behind bars for life. He instead pleaded guilty to state charges, spent 13 months in jail, paid settlements to victims and is a registered sex offender.

Mr Acosta had attempted to clear his name, and held a news conference - encouraged by Mr Trump - to defend his actions. In a 50-plus-minute lawyerly rebuttal, Mr Acosta argued his office had secured the best deal it could at the time and was working in the victims' best interests.

"We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail," he said, refusing to apologise for his actions. "We believe that we proceeded appropriately."

Pressed on whether he had any regrets, Mr Acosta repeatedly suggested that circumstances had changed since then.

"We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight and we live in a very different world," he said. "Today's world treats victims very, very differently."

After federal attorneys in New York announced the new charges against Epstein this week, Mr Acosta tweeted that he was "pleased" by their decision.

"The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific," Mr Acosta tweeted.

"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.

"Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice," he said.

Mr Acosta took on the role of labour secretary in early 2017. He frustrated some conservatives who had been pushing for his ouster long before the Epstein uproar.

Among their frustrations were Mr Acosta's decisions to proceed with several employment discrimination lawsuits and to allow certain Obama holdovers to remain on the job.

Irish Independent

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