WASHINGTON – Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta defended himself on Capitol Hill Wednesday in light of a recent ruling that he violated federal law when handling the sex trafficking case of a Palm Beach millionaire in the early 2000s.
Acosta said he did not violate the law when, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2008, he oversaw the case of Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls.
“We acted consistent with DOJ protocol, rules, and regulations,” Acosta said during a hearing on Capitol Hill. “That’s the position of the department, based on my understanding of the litigation across multiple administrations, across multiple attorneys general.”
In 2008, Acosta and others agreed not to prosecute Epstein, 66, in exchange for guilty pleas to two counts of prostitution and registration as a sex offender. The deal — exposed in the Miami Herald — allowed Epstein, a well-connected financier, to avoid a sentence of up to life in prison. Instead, Epstein served 13 months in a Palm Beach county jail, where he was allowed to come and go and conduct business, according to the Herald. He was released in 2009.
In March, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the deal violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act because victims were not notified ahead of time, depriving them of their right to discuss — and possibly derail — it.
During the hearing, Florida Democrat U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents a district that includes parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, pressed Acosta about Judge Marra’s finding that Acosta “actively hid” the “odious deal” from Epstein’s victims. She said Acosta privately assured Epstein’s lawyers that he would not tell victims about the deal and that he directed prosecutors to refrain from issuing victim notification letters until after the deal was sealed. She asked how he could justify that.
Acosta responded that the Department of Justice maintains that he did not violate federal law, a position he said the department has held for 12 years. Acosta added that the department’s concern was not that “we weren’t doing enough but … that we were too aggressive” in handling the case.
Many Florida Democrats have called for Acosta’s resignation in the wake of the scandal.
“The president should have long ago taken a very careful look at that,” said Rep. Donna Shalala, a Democrat representing the Miami area, who has not officially called for his resignation. “I’m surprised he’s still in office.”
When asked by the Florida Phoenix Wednesday about calls for his resignation, Acosta shook his head and declined to comment.
Shalala expects him to ride out the controversy. He “obviously will” continue to serve in his position unless President Trump asks him to resign, she said. “But the president has no morals on these kinds of issues, so I don’t expect the president to ask him.”