Editor's note: In July 2019, Alexander Acosta stepped down as Labor Secretary over his role in a 2007 plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein. On August 10, 2019, Epstein died in an apparent jailhouse suicide. For more information, see The Daily Beast's reporting here.
Since late last year, different factions have been pressuring Donald Trump to sack Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, but as of Tuesday evening, the president was still sticking to a script that he’s honed when confronting allegations against his powerful friends and allies: double down and stand by your man.
“For two and a half years, he’s been just an excellent secretary of Labor. He’s done a fantastic job,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “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.”
The president added that “we’ll look at it very carefully, we’ll be looking at that very carefully, OK?” In February, Trump’s then-press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House was “certainly looking into” Secretary Acosta’s handling of a secret plea deal. It is unclear if that review ever concluded or even started, and if Trump on Tuesday was referring to a different, or the same, alleged internal review.
It’s not the first time in this administration—or in his life as a businessman—Trump has expressed sympathy with his powerful friends and allies in the face of damning allegations, even in situations where people have been accused of horrific sexual assault.
Still, some of Trump’s aides and confidants have privately urged the president to show Acosta the door. And many of the Labor secretary’s prominent defenders have gone publicly silent as the Epstein scandal mounts.
Starting in at least late February, several close advisers and aides have recommended to President Trump that he ditch Secretary Acosta, in large part due to public-relations damage done by a Miami Herald investigative series, according to one senior administration official and another source with knowledge of the conversations. In February, a federal judge also ruled that prosecutors in Florida, including Acosta, broke the law in signing the plea agreement with Epstein.
“The administration should have gotten rid of Acosta after the original Miami Herald story,” said a former Trump administration official. “Even if he did nothing technically illegal, the optics of the plea deal are awful. To give a monster like Epstein such a friendly deal should disqualify Acosta from ever holding another job in the public sector again.”
On top of that, some top officials have recently and repeatedly complained about what they view as Acosta’s insufficiently ruthless approach to deregulation.
“I think the president is right now thinking that this thing is deeper than Acosta,” former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), a Trump surrogate, said on Tuesday. “I don’t think he’s going to let the Democrats get away with making this all about Acosta… The great thing that the Trump presidency has established is that the traditional thinking about ‘people are saying bad things about me, I gotta run and hide,’ is over. [President Trump has] challenged the very notion that if someone accuses you of something, you’re gone. He’s given people the chance to live another day.”
But, Kingston said, if Acosta “starts cowering, then I think it’s over for him.”
For now, the secretary of Labor is sticking to his guns, but in recent weeks, federal prosecutors in Georgia met with victims to discuss potential remedies to Epstein’s illegal 2007 plea agreement inked by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami—and at least one victim demanded that Acosta resign.
Spencer Kuvin, the attorney for that victim, said her priority is to see Epstein charged for his Florida crimes. She also asked for the government to make Epstein’s entire case file public, including external and internal communications within Acosta’s former office relating to the financier’s sweetheart deal. “And then lastly, I know my client said, ‘I want Acosta to step down,’” Kuvin told The Daily Beast last month.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled Acosta’s office violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by keeping Epstein’s victims in the dark about the controversial 2007 non-prosecution agreement (NPA). Indeed, Acosta and his team worked behind closed doors (including at a secret “breakfast meeting,” according to court records) with Epstein’s high-powered attorneys to downgrade the charges to state court.
On Tuesday, Kuvin said of Acosta, “It’s truly unbelievable that he continues to hold a job in one of the highest offices of the United States.”
“So now you have a U.S. Attorney who broke the law who is now running the Department of Labor,” Kuvin told The Daily Beast. “How does somebody like that keep their job?”
“It’s unfathomable that the president would keep someone like that on the job. But sadly, it’s unsurprising given Trump’s history with the defendant in this case. Trump socialized with Epstein. He was photographed with Epstein, called him a ‘terrific guy,’” Kuvin said, referring to Trump’s 2002 praises of the pervy financier.
“They lived only blocks away from each other in Palm Beach,” Kuvin added of Epstein and Trump, “ran in the same circles, went to the same parties.”
“Epstein is a man who has and had very powerful friends,” Kuvin said. “Whether a royal in England, with his friendship with Prince Andrew, Trump here in the United States, politicians like [Bill] Clinton that he knew and socialized with.”
Kuvin continued, “The press needs to stay vigilant now on Epstein Part 2. Because in Epstein Part 1, he got all the breaks.”
Meanwhile, Jane Does 1 and 2, who sued the government over Epstein’s plea deal, have asked to meet personally with Acosta, as well as the current U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida—a request the feds ignored in their own court filings. The victims filed court papers on Tuesday in response to the feds, which are arguing that Epstein’s shady NPA should be upheld. (The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is representing the government, after prosecutors in South Florida, where the Jane Doe case was filed, recused themselves.)
“While Mr. Acosta has chosen not to speak to the Epstein victims previously, he has chosen to make public statements—when it has served his purposes,” the Jane Does stated in the filing. “For example, in a March 2011 statement released to the media (but not to Epstein’s victims), Acosta claimed that going to trial against Epstein would have faced a ‘reduced likelihood of success.’ That claim seemed dubious at the time—and yesterday’s indictment in New York casts further doubt on it.”
“Mr. Acosta should explain to Epstein’s Florida’s victims why his judgment was so much different than the skilled prosecutors in New York,” they added.
For his part, Acosta has been tweeting about Epstein’s bust in New York, and in defense of his handling of the money-manager’s case a decade ago. “The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence,” he wrote Tuesday.
“With the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator,” Acosta added, referring to his old Miami office.
Kuvin wasn’t buying the damage control.
“Basically what Acosta is saying,” Kuvin said, “is that SDNY did a better job investigating than they did.”
Jack Scarola, an attorney who represents the Jane Does, told The Daily Beast that Trump should join the chorus of people demanding answers on Acosta's role in Epstein's soft treatment and why the deal was kept secret from the dozens of underage girls Epstein molested.
"Federal District Court Judge Kenneth Marra has detailed the factual basis for his specific finding that then-US Attorney Acosta entered into an illegal agreement with attorneys for Jeffrey Epstein to actively conceal from Epstein’s child victims the existence of the Government’s plea deal with Epstein," Scarola said.
But "the victims were not only kept in the dark, they were actively lied to by government agents," Scarola added. "Hiding the secret deal was inexcusable. The terms of the secret deal are totally unjustifiable. The available evidence of Epstein’s guilt was overwhelming a decade ago when Epstein was granted immunity from federal prosecution. Any contrary assertion alleging weaknesses in the case is absurd. That position is clearly evidenced by the decision of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to prosecute Epstein more than a decade after his years of child molestation and rape."
Scarola said the fact that Acosta's office also gave Epstein's co-conspirators immunity is "even more egregious."
“That kind of get-out-of-jail-free card is unprecedented and a patent abuse of prosecutorial discretion,” Scarola added. “Mr. Acosta has a lot of explaining to do and none of his public statements to date come anywhere close to providing a rational explanation.”