The two leading Democrats in Congress are calling on President Trump’s Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, to resign over his role in billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s sex-trafficking scandal.
Acosta, the former U.S. Attorney for South Florida, has been facing renewed scrutiny for his role in overseeing a lenient plea deal Epstein accepted in 2008. Although the financier was accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in his Palm Beach home, Epstein pleaded guilty to just two counts of soliciting prostitution from a minor, and served just 13 months of his 18-month sentence. Acosta has defended the deal, saying it was appropriate at the time, but earlier this year a federal judge in Florida said he is considering invalidating it because the victims were not consulted on the deal prior to its announcement.
“[Acosta] must step down. As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/ Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice,” Pelosi tweeted Monday evening. “This was known by [Trump] when he appointed him to the cabinet.”
Schumer reiterated those sentiments Tuesday morning. “It is now impossible for anyone to have confidence in Secretary Acosta’s ability to lead the Department of Labor. If he refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him.”
Acosta is facing the media glare against this week after Epstein was arrested Saturday on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges brought forth by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Epstein pleaded not guilty in court on Monday.
The Department of Labor did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TIME, but on Tuesday morning Acosta tweeted that “the crimes committed by Epstein are horrific” and he’s “pleased” that a new case against him is moving forward.
The White House said earlier this year they would investigate Acosta’s role in the plea deal, but had yet to issue an official statement as of Tuesday morning. But both President Trump and one of his top advisers, Kellyanne Conway, addressed the scandal Tuesday morning.
Trump praised Acosta as an “excellent Secretary of Labor,” and argued that many people have made decisions in their career they subsequently regretted. “I do hear there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him,” Trump told reporters. He reiterated that the White House would examine the matter carefully, but emphasized that he felt badly for his cabinet member.
Conway, meanwhile, criticized Pelosi for speaking out against Acosta.
“It’s classic her and her Democratic party to not focus on the perpetrator at hand and instead focus on a member of the Trump administration,” she told reporters. “They’re so obsessed with this President that they immediately go to Alex Acosta rather than Jeffrey Epstein.”
–With reporting by Mahita Gajanan
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