FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump, left, and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta listen during a meeting of the President's National Council of the American Worker.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Acosta to Take Questions

Acosta to take questions on his handling of Epstein case

July 10, 2019 - 12:56 pm

By JILL COLVIN Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Labor Secretary Alex Acosta plans to make a statement Wednesday regarding his handling of a sex-trafficking case involving now-jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein as Democrats intensify their calls for the secretary to resign.

Acosta has repeatedly defended his work in the case and is not expected to resign during his afternoon appearance.

Acosta, a former federal prosecutor in south Florida, is being assailed for his part in a secret 2008 plea deal that let Epstein avoid federal prosecution on charges that he molested teenage girls. Instead Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida of soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution.

Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to new child sex-trafficking charges alleging he abused dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s, paying them hundreds of dollars in cash for massages, then molesting them at his homes in Florida and New York.

Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, defended Acosta's conduct, telling reporters "the reality is that the defense attorneys in that case actually tried to get Alex removed because they thought he was such an aggressive prosecutor in this case."

"As you heard Alex say yesterday, we welcome the fact that there is additional evidence that can be prosecuted," Short said. "The crimes are atrocities and certainly should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Trump on Tuesday also repeatedly praised Acosta's work in his Cabinet and said he felt badly for what Acosta was being put through, even as he said he'd be looking "very closely" at the matter.

Trump, who had once praised Epstein as "a terrific guy," also dissociated himself from the wealthy hedge fund manager now charged with abusing minors, saying the two had a falling out 15 or so years ago and hadn't spoken since.

Democratic presidential contenders and party leaders want Acosta to resign or be fired over the 2008 deal that has struck many prosecutors as unusually lenient. Under the deal, Epstein averted a possible life sentence if convicted, instead serving 13 months in a work-release program. He was required to make payments to victims and register as a sex offender.

Many Senate Republicans have taken a wait-and-see approach. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said Tuesday that Acosta should hold a news conference to explain why he'd agreed to the plea bargain and answer all questions.

"Anybody who would look at this, just based on what's been reported, would have questions," Kennedy said. "That doesn't mean necessarily that there aren't answers." The Labor Department said Acosta planned to take questions as well as make a statement.

Acosta on Tuesday tweeted that he was "pleased" prosecutors in New York were moving forward with the case, crediting new evidence that "offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice."


Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Alan Fram contributed to this report.


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