(ABC NEWS) — Labor Secretary Alex Acosta has resigned amid controversy over his role in a 2008 plea deal with accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
President Donald Trump said Friday that it was Acosta’s decision and not his as he spoke to reporters as he left the White House for a trip to Wisconsin.
Acosta was standing next to Trump as the president called him “a great labor secretary, not a good one.”
Trump repeated what he had said earlier this week about the financier he had called a “terrific guy” in a 2002 interview. “I’m not a fan of Jeffrey Epstein,” Trump told reporters.
When asked by ABC News’ Kyra Philips whether he knew Epstein was molesting young girls, Trump said no.
Just Wednesday, at a news conference he held to explain his role in the plea deal, Acosta had said he had an excellent relationship with Trump.
In that news conference, Acosta defended his the deal with Epstein in a 2008 case in Florida that allowed him to serve a lesser sentence on state charges of prostitution.
“The goal here was straightforward,” Acosta said. “Put Epstein behind bars, ensure he registered as a sexual offender, provide victims with a means to seek restitution, and protect the public by putting them on notice that a sexual predator was within their midst.”
Acosta added, “We believe we proceeded appropriately.”
When asked by ABC News’ Tom Llamas whether Epstein’s victims deserved an apology, Acosta responded by noting decisions the prosecutor in the case made to try to help victims secure financial restitution. He did not offer an apology.
“When it was finally clear that Epstein would comply with the agreement, she talks about how she made efforts to notify the victims,” Acosta said.
Acosta has faced growing calls from top Democrats that he resign over his role in the controversial plea deal in Florida involving Epstein, arrested over the weekend on federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy in New York.
During his time heading the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, Acosta negotiated a plea deal that allowed Epstein to serve a 13-month sentence on state prostitution charges, avoiding more serious federal sex trafficking charges calling for a much longer prison term. While serving out his sentence in a private wing of the Palm Beach County Jail, Epstein was allowed out for work release 12 hours a day, six days a week. The deal, now under review by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, also gave Epstein and any alleged co-conspirators immunity from further federal prosecution in the Southern District of Florida.
Acosta was asked Wednesday whether he would resign if the Office of Professional Responsibility found misconduct related to the case. Acosta said he would “clearly submit for an interview” but said he would refer to the office for further information the status of the review.
During the press conference, Acosta said that Epstein served more time than he would have under charges initially brought by the state as a result of his intervention in the state case. A state grand jury brought a single charge against Epstein that would have resulted in no jail time.
“Simply put, the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office was ready to let Epstein walk free, no jail time, nothing,” Acosta said. “Prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable, and they became involved.”
But in a statement released Wednesday evening, former Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer refuted Acosta’s account. Krischer wrote that after the state grand jury returned a single count against Epstein, Acosta’s office produced an indictment that was abandoned after “secret negations” between Epstein’s lawyers and Acosta, that the State Attorney’s Office was not a part of.
Acosta, who said his resignation would be effective July 19, was the only Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet and speaks Spanish fluently. He is the son of Cuban refugees, a native of Miami, and first-generation college graduate, according to his biography on the Department of Labor’s website.
“My parents left Cuba as refugees in search of freedom to make a better life in the greatest country in the world, the United States of America,” he said in his resignation letter to Trump.
“They worked hard and wanted the best opportunities for their son and grandchildren, In one generation, their dreams were more than surpassed when you offered me the honor of a lifetime to serve as a member of your Cabinet, as Secretary of Labor,” he said in the letter.”
He said Friday that he hadn’t met Trump before the president offered him the post after Trump’s previous nominee, Andrew Puzder, was forced to withdraw.
Acosta received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his law degree from Harvard Law School. He later clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito when Alito was an appeals court judge. He has practiced law at Kirkland & Ellis, served as a Republican member of the National Labor Relations Board, and has been dean of the Florida International University School of Law.
In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and from 2005 to 2009 he served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, according to the website, and was twice named as named one of the nation’s 50 most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business magazine, the website biography reads.