Labor Secretary resigns amid pressure over Epstein case

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," July 12, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXANDER ACOSTA, LABOR SECRETARY: If at some point the president decides that I am not the best person to do this job, I respect that. That is his choice. I serve at the pleasure of the president.

It would be selfish for me to stay in this position and continue talking about a case that's 12 years old rather than about the amazing economy we have right now. And so I submitted my resignation to the president effective seven days from today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Alex Acosta indicating two days ago he had no plan to step down as labor secretary unless the president asked him, then today saying he decided to quit even though the president didn't ask him.

Time to bring in our panel, Tom Rogan from the "Washington Examiner," Mollie Hemingway, of "The Federalist," author of the new book "Justice On Trial, The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court," and Charles Lane from "The Washington Post"."

Mollie, do you have any sense whether Alex Acosta jumped or whether he was pushed?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE FEDERALIST": I think if the president really wanted to make sure he stayed there, he would have stayed there. But this is a sign that this case, this Epstein case is something that's going to roil Washington. Acosta was the AUSA who made the plea agreement that people don't like.

WALLACE: The assistant U.S. attorney.

HEMINGWAY: Assistant U.S. attorney, sorry. There were other people involved, too. Part of the reasons he got that plea agreement is because he was acting as an informant of the FBI of which Robert Mueller was the head, I believe at that time.

WALLACE: Epstein, not Acosta.

HEMINGWAY: Yes. So there are other people who are involved in this as well that we're going to be finding out more about.

WALLACE: Chuck, it's so interesting, because Acosta said today he didn't want to be a distraction, but he held a news conference for an hour on Wednesday, and I think most of Washington thought he is trying to keep his job, and certainly indicated he wanted to keep his job. What do you think happened?

CHARLES LANE, OPINION WRITER, "WASHINGTON POST": It's one of the strangest departure orchestrations I can remember. Usually when you are leaving, you don't hold a press conference with the president as you leave.

WALLACE: He didn't hold the press conference. The president let him do it.

LANE: Let him do it, but either way, it's pretty unusual. The knives were out for Alex Acosta for other reasons even before the Epstein thing. He was regarded as a little bit too much of a moderate on deregulation and things like that by the conservatives in the administration. It should be remembered he was a moderate alternative to the president's original choice for this department, Andy Puzder, who was considered the conservative darling for that job. The labor unions kind of supported Acosta's nomination at the beginning, and he got nine Democratic votes. And I think that moderation, which was a selling point at the beginning, some people in the administration never quite forgiven him for and may have helped take advantage of this moment to get him shoved out.

WALLACE: Tom, thoughts about Alex Acosta's departure?

TOM ROGAN, COMMENTARY WRITER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Because of the dichotomy in terms of what we saw from Acosta with the big presentation, I will take multiple questions, just one more, more questions, that was clearly an implication, I think, that he wanted to sustain in that job. What happened? I think we have to assume that President Trump, watching the news coverage of this, expected that the story was going to continue, and as Mollie suggests, potentially even grow. And in that regard coming up to the election, the president probably decided enough is enough, you are too much of a hindrance to me, goodbye.

WALLACE: And as these young women come out, no longer teenagers, but come out and talk about the horrible things that Jeffrey Epstein did to them, it was not something that the Trump White House wanted anything to be associated with.

Let me keep on this with you, Tom. Robert Mueller, this is curious, slated to testify before Congress on Wednesday, then we got word, no, it's been delayed until the following Wednesday, from the 17th to the 24th. Now the people running the committee, the House Judiciary, saying no, no, he's coming on the 17th. What is going on?

ROGAN: It looks like the reporting here is that there has been disagreements about the rules of the game, because it is going to be a political game regardless of the merits, a very important investigation from an important investigator being from Capitol Hill. Clearly the politics of this again with the 2020 cycle very much upon us are going to define the narrative.

And so regardless of the delay here, I just don't think we are going to see anything particularly new from Robert Mueller in this.

WALLACE: I want to pick on that, because there's quite a disagreement about the value of Mueller testifying. Here's a taste of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: How many bites at the apple do you get?

DAVID CICILLINE, D-R.I.: It's very important that the American people have the opportunity to hear from Robert Mueller, that he have the opportunity to convey to the American all the evidence he collected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Mollie, given the fact that the Mueller report is out and people who care about it have digested it, and the fact Mueller has really indicated he does not want to testify and is going to stick to the four corners of the 448 pages of the report, how much impact do you expect this to have if and when it does happen?

HEMINGWAY: I think part of the issue here is the impact wasn't going to go in Democratic favor. You have the report out. Everybody knows what's in there. So this gives an opportunity for Republicans to ask questions that they probably wouldn't get answers to, but questions like why did you not investigate the Russian dossier that turned out not to be true? Why did you not investigate --

WALLACE: So are you suggesting it's not going to happen?

HEMINGWAY: Well, I think they are understanding it's a less favorable situation. There is a reason why Jerry Nadler isn't as excited about having Mueller testify as some other people on the committee.

WALLACE: Jerry Nadler, of course, the chairman of the committee. In 30 seconds, first of all, do you think he's going to testify or not?

LANE: He doesn't want to. And it does seem like the Democrats are having some misgivings about it, but they seem to be internal misgivings because a lot of the junior members of the committee are saying wait a minute, I'm not going to get my moment in the sun.

WALLACE: Because they only agreed on two hours, and each gets five minutes, and there are 170 members -- I'm only slightly exaggerating -- of the committee, and if they all testify it's going to be a lot more than two hours.

LANE: I would put it this way. If he doesn't testify, I think it's mainly an embarrassment to the Democrats, and on that basis they are going to insist on having it.

WALLACE: All right, thank you all, panel. We're going to take a brief timeout. Up next, the Friday lightning round.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This election is, quite frankly, just more consequential than any we've ever been engaged in.

TRUMP: I see what I'm running against. You have got sleepy Joe Biden, he doesn't have energy to be president. And the people that are nipping on his heels, they don't have what it takes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Joe Biden on the campaign trail today in New Hampshire and President Trump dismissing Biden as well as all the other Democrats running to take his job.

And we're back now with the panel. Let's start with a new "Wall Street Journal" national poll out today of the Democrats running for president. Joe Biden still in the lead, this is a national poll, 26 percent. Elizabeth Warren in the second, moved up, 19 percent. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders tied for third at 13 percent. And Pete Buttigieg, I guess the last member of what you'd call the top tier, at seven percent, he's in fifth place. Chuck, what does that tell you about the state of the race?

LANE: It tells me that Kamala Harris may have gotten a little bit less of a bounce, at least according to that poll, than a lot of people believe from those debate. It also tell you it hasn't changed all that much as a result of the debate. Biden is still, perhaps somewhat less, but still comfortably in the frontrunner's position, and Elizabeth Warren is still the second choice. I think there's --

WALLACE: This is a lightning round.

(LAUGHTER)

LANE: Yes. I think there's a chance for somebody to break out of the pack, but if it happens it would probably be at the expense of Joe Biden.

WALLACE: Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: A couple months ago Donald Trump kept talking about Joe Biden, and everybody thought that's crazy, he is going to be the strongest contender, why are you elevating him? And now I think you are starting to see the race tighten up, the money race tighten up, and you're seeing that other Democrats aren't so keen having him be the frontrunner.

WALLACE: Tom, how vulnerable is Biden, and who of the rest of that top tier do you see as providing the toughest competition?

ROGAN: I think the toughest competition is clearly Kamala Harris in terms of the excitement in the Democratic Party. The vulnerability to Joe Biden I think will be decided in large part based on his performance in the next debate later this month. If he doesn't deliver a much stronger performance, I think all his momentum will continue to seep away from him.

WALLACE: Let's turn to the economy. Amazing week on the markets. The Dow finished above 27,000 for the week, the S&P 500 above 3,000 for the week. The question, let me start with you, Tom, what's going on?

ROGAN: The economy is strong in terms of the metrics of employment. It's politically salable strong in the sense of the minority employment rate as well, women, for example. The difficulty and the challenge here is if we look at business investment as one example, that is declining, fears over the trade battles the president has.

WALLACE: Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: We've been told for months, years even, that tariffs would destroy the economy. After Donald Trump was elected, we were told the economy wouldn't recover. We see job growth, wage growth, the stock market doing well. Anything can change, of course but our predictors are pretty wrong. The political problem is Democrats need the economy to be problematic so they can run on that, and the economy just keeps blooming.

WALLACE: Chuck?

LANE: What's going on is the Fed is promising lower interest rates. There's nowhere else to go with your investments but the stock market in a low interest environment. Stocks are going up.

WALLACE: I've got to write this down.

(LAUGHTER)

LANE: I know where to put my money.

All right, it's time for winners and losers. Tom?

ROGAN: My winner of the week is Central Command. We'll hear a lot more about this, I suspect, next week. A lot American allies very uncomfortable with the Trump administration's position on Iran, and yet behind the scenes a lot of nations are, I think, going to providing naval forces to support transit through the Strait of Hormuz.

My loser of the week Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey, having delivering the S-400 Russian missile defense system off the back of a very embarrassing defeat in Istanbul mayoral race. He now faces sanctions. His economy is already weak. The sultan is heading for some dark waters.

WALLACE: So you didn't call the British ambassador the loser of the week.

ROGAN: He may be the loser of next week. Stay tuned for that.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: My loser is Nancy Pelosi. She spent a lot of time elevating the progressive wing of her caucus, showing up on magazine covers with them, and this week they were calling her, suggesting that she was racist and there's mass disarray in her party on this issue.

My winner, the U.S. Coast Guard. We talk a lot about other branches of military. This week one of its members got some attention for boarding a narco-sub and seizing 17,000 pounds of cocaine.

WALLACE: I've seen some of that video. It is amazing. They're banging, and who knew -- I didn't know the narco-people had submarines. Winner and loser?

LANE: My winner is U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman who sits in the Southern District of New York who is the author of the lower court opinion shredding the president's, the administration's decision-making process of the citizenship question. He was upheld in the Supreme Court. He pushed back when the president tried to change his lawyers on him. He's been ultimately vindicated by the withdrawal of that question.

The loser has to be Alex Acosta, as we've been talking about before. On day one he saying defiantly, I'm here to stay. On day two, he's on his way out.

WALLACE: That's not the first time we've seen that in Washington, is it?

(LAUGHTER)

LANE: I hope it won't ever happen to me.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: I hope it happens to nobody on the panel. I will say now we're going to have another acting secretary. It is amazing. There are a lot of actors in this cabinet.

Thank you, panel. Have a great weekend, all of you. And when we come back, "Notable Quotables."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Finally tonight, "Notable Quotables."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go eat, get food, water, and don't let what happened in 2016 happen again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yesterday of the biggest was a 6.4. Today, the biggest is a 7.1.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I wasn't afraid to come forward sooner, then maybe he wouldn't have done it to other girls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whomever let this happen to this many girls just because this guy was wealthy and powerful, they should all rot in jail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I submitted my resignation to the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard for me to understand why anybody would vote against it, why it's not just a unanimous consent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today ends our presidential campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One down, 25,000 more to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Tom Steyer. I'm running for president.

TRUMP: How many toilets do they have? How many desks? How many beds? What's their roof made of?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: The only thing we can't ask is are you a citizen of the United States?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: You know his hate, make America white again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think she has racial animus. Is she racist?

REP. ALEXANDRA OCASIO-CORTEZ, D-N.Y.: No, no. Absolutely not.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: For Democrats, Nancy Pelosi seems to be in a, meow, catfight with these days, fun to watch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got white girls and black girls, straight girls and gay girls.

(APPLAUSE)

CROWD: USA! Equal Pay! USA! Equal Pay!

PELOSI: They have shown their talent and greatness. Now let's show them the money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are a punk. You're not a journalist. You're a punk.

TRUMP: Very special. The kidney has a very special place in the heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: As Bret would say, one week.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. Please join me this weekend for "Fox News Sunday" where we'll have the latest on tropical storm Barry on the Gulf Coast. "The Story" hosted by Martha MacCallum starts right now. Martha, hope you have a great weekend.

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