Today's Paper Search Latest Core values App Traffic map In the news #Gazette200 Listen Digital FAQ Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles/Games Archive
story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media with Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, July 12, 2019, before Trump boards Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. and then on to Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — Adding to the lengthy list of departures from President Donald Trump's Cabinet, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Friday he's stepping down amid the tumult over his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sexually abusing underage girls.

Trump, with Acosta at his side, said Friday he did not ask his secretary to leave and "I hate to see this happen." The president, who publicly faults the news media almost daily, said Acosta put the blame there, too.

Acosta "informed me this morning that he felt the constant drumbeat of press about a prosecution which took place under his watch more than 12 years ago was bad for the Administration, which he so strongly believes in, and he graciously tendered his resignation," Trump tweeted later in the day.

Trump said Pat Pizzella, the department's deputy secretary since April 2018, would succeed Acosta on an acting basis.

Pizzella served in the administrations of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama. A coalition of civil rights, human rights, labor and other groups opposed his nomination by Trump to the department's No. 2 slot, citing Pizzella's record on labor rights.

Acosta was the U.S. attorney in Miami when he oversaw a 2008 non-prosecution agreement that allowed Epstein to avoid federal trial but plead guilty to state charges and serve 13 months in jail. Similar charges filed against Epstein by federal prosecutors in New York this week had put Acosta's handling of the 2008 agreement with the now-jailed financier back in the spotlight.

Years ago, Epstein had counted Trump and former President Bill Clinton among his friends, but Trump said this week he was "not a fan."

Acosta said he didn't want his handling of Epstein's case to overshadow the president's agenda and said his resignation would be effective in seven days.

"My point here today is we have an amazing economy, and the focus needs to be on the economy," he said.

Top Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates had demanded that Acosta resign. But Acosta had defended his actions, insisting at a news conference Wednesday that he got the toughest deal on Epstein that he could at the time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said he should never have been appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate. "Thank God he's gone," she said

Acosta had also frustrated some conservatives who wanted him gone long before the Epstein uproar. Among their objections were his decisions to proceed with several employment discrimination lawsuits and to allow certain Obama administration holdovers to keep their jobs.

His resignation extends a record level of turnover at the highest levels of Trump's administration, with acting secretaries at key departments, including the Pentagon and Homeland Security. Roughly two-thirds of the Cabinet has turned over by the two-and-a-half year mark of Trump's term.

Only the departments of Treasury, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Energy, Commerce and Agriculture continue with the leaders that were first confirmed.

Epstein, 66, reached the deal in Florida in 2008 to secretly end a federal sex abuse investigation involving at least 40 teenage girls that could have landed him behind bars for life. He instead pleaded guilty to Florida state charges, spent 13 months in jail, paid settlements to victims and registered as a sex offender.

A federal judge has said Acosta violated federal law by keeping Epstein's victims in the dark about the plea arrangement, and the Justice Department has been investigating.

The deal came under scrutiny earlier this year after reporting by The Miami Herald.

Trump had defended Acosta earlier this week while saying he'd look "very closely" at his handling of the 2008 agreement.

Acosta had attempted to clear his name and held a news conference — encouraged by Trump — to defend his actions. In a 50-plus-minute lawyerly rebuttal, he argued his office had secured the best deal it could and had worked in the best interests of Epstein's victims.

"We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail," he said.

Pressed on whether he had any regrets, Acosta repeatedly said circumstances had changed since then.

"We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight and we live in a very different world," he said. "Today's world treats victims very, very differently."

After federal attorneys in New York announced the new charges against Epstein this week, Acosta tweeted that he was pleased by their decision.

"The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific," Acosta tweeted. "Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice."

Acosta took office as the nation's 27th labor secretary in early 2017, leading a sprawling agency that enforces more than 180 federal laws covering about 10 million employers and 125 million workers. The department also plays a role in combatting human trafficking.

Before he was named a U.S. attorney, Acosta was an assistant attorney general for the civil rights division in President George W. Bush's first term. Before joining the Trump administration, he was dean of the Florida International University law school.


Sponsor Content

Archived Comments

  • RBear
    July 12, 2019 at 9:06 a.m.

    Saw this coming. Trump hates when there is any distraction away from him and Acosta was becoming a distraction. Part of a trend with Trump. You can tell by his "words of support" whether a cabinet official is on the way out. Yet another of the "best and brightest" is on the way out. Trump has more "Acting" secretaries than any other president I've seen.

  • 23cal
    July 12, 2019 at 9:11 a.m.

    "Acosta says stepping aside was the right decision."
    It certainly is.
    Not nominating an incompetent and/or crooked prosecutor to the post in the first place would have been an even more right decision.
    How many of "the best people" with whom Trump surrounded himself are now gone? How many indicted? How many imprisoned? How many resigned in shame like this?

  • Waitjustaminute
    July 12, 2019 at 9:18 a.m.

    So RBear, are you saying he shouldn't have resigned?

  • Waitjustaminute
    July 12, 2019 at 9:19 a.m.

    Top Democrats called for his resignation. He resigned. Yet here you are finding something to complain about.

  • 23cal
    July 12, 2019 at 9:19 a.m.

    Acosta is the 9th cabinet official to leave the Trump administration. There are only 15 cabinet positions.
    For context: During the Obama Administration, there was no turnover in cabinet agencies, two and a half years into his first term. During the Bush Administration, one cabinet secretary had left office as of June 2003.
    What an incompetent clusterpack of an administration.
    Seems the "best and brightest" are a bunch of short-termers: either incompetent sleazes who leave in disgrace or people who commit the unforgivable sin of standing up to Trump.

  • Seitan
    July 12, 2019 at 9:29 a.m.

    And the rats keep jumping the ship. Such a classy administration.

  • Retirednwsman
    July 12, 2019 at 9:31 a.m.

    Another one of those "fine" Trump people bites the dust. With the Trump administration, staff positions are like a revolving door, ever changing because of the sleezeballs he appoints.

  • RBBrittain
    July 12, 2019 at 9:36 a.m.

    WaitJustAMinute, the problem is Trump ain't exactly hiring the "best and brightest"; he's more interested in who shows personal loyalty to him, instead of loyalty to the Constitution (as required by their oath of office) or the American people as a whole. Acosta's Epstein issues had become a distraction; that's why the Democrats demanded his resignation AND presumably why Trump asked for it.

  • RBear
    July 12, 2019 at 9:42 a.m.

    WJAM where in my statement was I complaining about his resignation? You are SO challenged in reading comprehension it's ridiculous. What I DID say was that Trump's claim of bringing in the "best and brightest" has been a farce from the start. SMH @ how much flies over your head on a daily basis.

  • JA40
    July 12, 2019 at 9:42 a.m.

    Just another thug in the bunch. Can anyone keep count?