Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday sought to recast his handling of the case of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, claiming he intervened to ensure a harsher sentence for Epstein and pointing fingers at other officials for being too lenient.
Since Epstein was arrested on charges of trafficking dozens of underage girls for sex, Acosta has come under fire for offering Epstein a cozy deal to skirt federal prosecution in 2007, when Acosta was the U.S. attorney in Miami and Epstein was staring down the prospect of a lengthy FBI sex crimes indictment that could have sent him away for life. Epstein wound up serving only 13 months in a cushy Palm Beach jail, and the deal was kept secret from Epstein’s alleged victims.
On Wednesday, Acosta essentially blamed the state of Florida, which he says would have only indicted Epstein on a single charge that would have resulted in “no jail time and no restitution to the victim” — that is, if Acosta hadn’t intervened. “The Palm Beach state attorney’s office was ready to let Epstein walk free,” Acosta said, which his office found to be “unacceptable.” Instead, Acosta says he offered Epstein an ultimatum: plead guilty to slightly more serious charges than those brought by the state, or his office would “roll the dice” and bring a federal indictment.
He deflected blame once again when addressing why Epstein’s alleged victims were not notified of the plea deal.
REPORTER: A federal judge ruled that you broke federal law by not letting victims weigh in on the plea deal you struck with Epstein. Would you do it differently?
ACOSTA: We followed department policy. pic.twitter.com/X8jqFpluUW
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 10, 2019
Acosta argued he offered the plea deal, in part, because an Epstein conviction could not be guaranteed.
When asked whether he would offer Epstein the same deal today, in light of the new charges, Acosta demurred, arguing that standards were different a decade ago. “We live in a very different world,” he said. “Today’s world treats victims very, very differently. Today’s world does not allow some of the victim-shaming that could have taken place at trial 12 years ago. … I don’t think we can take a case that is this old and know how it would play out today.”
Asked by CNN's Kaitlan Collins if he would make the same deal today, Acosta says: "Today's world treats victims very, very differently. Today's world does not allow some of the victim shaming that could have taken place at trial" pic.twitter.com/hrMnQlLrbu
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 10, 2019
In total, Acosta fielded questions for just shy of 55 minutes. At no point did he offer an apology to Epstein’s alleged victims.
Though scores of Democratic lawmakers have called for Acosta’s resignation in light of the new charges filed against Epstein, President Trump has stood by his labor secretary. “For two and a half years, he’s been just an excellent secretary of labor,” the president told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s done a fantastic job. If you go back and look at everybody else’s decisions, whether it’s a U.S. attorney or an assistant U.S. attorney or a judge … I would think you’d probably find that they would wish they maybe did it a different way. I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him. I can only say this from what I know, and what I do is he’s been a great — really great — secretary of labor.”
“We’ll look at it very carefully” Trump added.