A Trump Official Is Stepping Down Amid Criticism Of How He Handled A Sex Abuse Case

by Catherine Thompson
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

President Donald Trump announced Friday that his secretary of labor would be stepping down from that position amid criticism of how he handled a sexual abuse case more than a decade ago. Alex Acosta resigned after giving a press conference earlier this week in which he defended a non-prosecution deal he negotiated with Jeffrey Epstein in 2008, when he was serving as U.S. attorney in Miami. Epstein was arrested on July 6 and indicted on two sex trafficking counts in federal court in Manhattan.

The current sex trafficking case against Epstein is not the first time the hedge fund manager has been accused of serially sexually abusing underage girls (Epstein pleaded not guilty to the latest charges). According to reporting from the Miami Herald, local authorities in Palm Beach, Florida had looked into allegations that Epstein had sexually abused underage girls between 2001 and 2005, ultimately referring the case to the FBI. That FBI investigation was shut down by the non-prosecution deal Acosta negotiated with Epstein's lawyers, the Herald reported.

The deal allowed Epstein to plead guilty to two state-level prostitution charges rather than face federal charges, the Herald reported. He also served 13 months in jail — although he was allowed to leave for 12 hours a day, six days a week on work release — and was required to register as a sex offender, as well as pay restitution to victims that the FBI had identified, according to the newspaper. Crucially, the Herald reported that Acosta agreed to keep this deal secret from Epstein's victims, which they say violated federal law mandating that they be informed of such a development in their case.

In his news conference on Wednesday, Acosta argued that deal ensured that Epstein served jail time. "We believe we proceeded appropriately," he said, as quoted by USA Today.

President Trump defended his exiting labor secretary earlier this week, saying he felt "very badly" for Acosta because he has "known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job."

Last fall, an investigative series from the Miami Herald revisiting the Epstein case identified 80 women who'd said they were molested or abused by the money manager from 2001 to 2006. The new indictment against Epstein alleges he "sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York and Palm Beach, Florida" between 2002 and 2005. After coercing the girls into sex acts, the indictment alleges, Epstein paid them hundreds of dollars in cash, and paid some of them extra to recruit more girls into his network.

Since the indictment, more women have been coming forward publicly and to authorities with complaints about Epstein. On Wednesday, 32-year-old Jennifer Araoz alleged to NBC's Savannah Guthrie that Epstein had raped her when she was 15 years old. Araoz told Guthrie that she'd first been approached in 2001 by a woman outside her New York City high school who then brought her Epstein's Upper East Side mansion. She alleged that giving Epstein massages over a period of months escalated to a rape. Bustle has reached out to Epstein's lawyer for comment on Araoz's story.

Against that backdrop, Acosta had faced intense pressure to resign, particularly from top Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I don’t think it’s right or fair to have this administration’s labor department have Epstein be the focus instead of the incredible economy we have today,” Acosta said Friday while standing next to Trump on the White House lawn, as quoted by the Washington Post. “It would be selfish for me to stay in the position and continue talking about a case that is 12 years old.”