Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta defended his handling of the 2008 sex-abuse case against billionaire Jeffrey Epstein during a Wednesday press conference, arguing that as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, he achieved the best outcome possible considering the Florida state attorney’s initial failure to prosecute the case aggressively.
Acosta came under fire this week after Epstein was indicted on new federal sex-trafficking charges in New York on Monday. He pushed back during the press conference against the allegation that his office failed Epstein’s victims in securing a non-prosecution agreement that resulted in a 13-month jail sentence, for much of which Epstein was allowed to leave jail during the day to work in his personal office.
“The Palm Beach state attorney’s office was ready to let Epstein walk free. No jail time, nothing,” Acosta told reporters at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. “Prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable and they became involved. . . . Our prosecutors, as this 2008 article recounts, presented the ultimatum: plead guilty to more serious charges — charges that require jail time, registration, and restitution — or we’d roll the dice and bring a federal indictment. Without the work of prosecutors, Epstein would have gotten away with just that state charge.”
Acosta and the prosecutors who served under him at the time have also been criticized for refusing to share information about the deal they reached with victims until it was too late to alter its terms.
The secretary pushed back on that charge, too, Wednesday, saying his office concealed the deal because it didn’t want victims to know that they might receive financial restitution from Epstein, as that fact may have been used by defense attorneys to undermine their credibility. He also emphasized that the unwillingness of many of the victims to testify against Epstein hindered the prosecution.
President Trump, who reportedly directed Acosta to hold the press conference, has defended his handling of the case but said Tuesday that the White House is now examining his prosecutorial decisions “very carefully.”
“I can only say this from what I know and what I do know is that he’s been a great, really great secretary of labor,” Trump said. “The rest, we’ll have to look at it. We’ll have to look at it very carefully. But 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. So we’re going to look at it very carefully.”