Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Friday he will be stepping down over his past involvement in a highly controversial plea deal for financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is now facing sex trafficking charges.
Acosta and President Trump revealed the secretary’s decision Friday morning during remarks to reporters outside the White House. Acosta said he submitted his resignation to the president that morning and would resign from his post next week.
"Over the last week, I've seen a lot of coverage about the Department of Labor," Acosta said, noting the reports have been related to the Epstein controversy and not success at the agency. "I do not think it is right and fair for this administration's Labor Department to have Epstein as the focus rather than the incredible economy we have today."
"I called the president today ... I submitted my resignation," Acosta said. "It would be selfish for me to stay in this position and continue talking about a case that is 12 years old rather than the incredible economy we have today."
Acosta came under heavy fire this week for his role as U.S. attorney for Florida in securing a plea deal for Epstein that resulted in an 18-month sentence — he served just 13 months.
The deal was criticized as lenient because Epstein could have faced a life sentence. Acosta negotiated a deal that resulted in two state solicitation charges, but no federal charges.
Epstein was charged this week with sex trafficking and conspiracy during the early 2000s based on new evidence. Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday in New York City federal court.
The president, though, underscored that it was Acosta's decision to resign from his post, and touted his work in the administration.
"Alexander is a great labor secretary -- not a good labor secretary," he said. "There is no need at all, as far as I'm concerned...This is a person that I've gotten to know. There hasn't been an ounce of controversy at the Department of Labor."
Trump added: "He's doing this not for himself. He's doing this for the administration. I said, 'You don't have to do this.' He doesn't have to do this."
Trump announced that deputy secretary of Labor, Pat Pizzella, will take over the agency as acting secretary.
Trump, who was said to have been friends with Epstein, added that he "was not a fan" of him and has not spoken to him in 15 years.
"I wasn't a big fan of Epstein. That I can tell you," he said. "I will say this and say it again. I say it loud and clear. Alex Acosta was a great secretary of labor."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had called Monday for Acosta to step down over what she called an “unconscionable agreement” with Epstein, and was soon joined by a chorus of other top-ranking congressional Democrats.
Meanwhile, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee wrote to Acosta on Wednesday inviting him to testify at a July 23 hearing that will examine his actions related to Epstein.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was the first 2020 Democrat to react to Acosta’s resignation, tweeting: “Good riddance.”
Acosta defended himself Wednesday in a press conference, in which he said that his office fought for a tougher punishment after state prosecutors were ready to let him walk free.
“Simply put, the Palm Beach state attorney’s office was ready to let Epstein walk free, no jail time,” he said. “Prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable.”
Acosta argued that it was his office that secured jail time, restitution and for Epstein to register as a sex offender.
“We believe that we proceeded appropriately, that's based on evidence, not just my opinion... there was value to getting a guilty plea and having him register,” he said.
Barry Krischer, the Palm Beach County state attorney at the time, responded later Wednesday: “I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong. Federal prosecutors do not take a back seat to state prosecutors. That’s not how the system works in the real world.”
He continued, “If Mr. Acosta was truly concerned with the State’s case and felt he had to rescue the matter, he would have moved forward with the 53-page indictment that his own office drafted.”
Still, Acosta said the accusations against Epstein were “despicable” and his alleged crimes “absolutely deserve a stiffer sentence.”