WASHINGTON — Lawmakers across Capitol Hill are stepping up calls for the immediate resignation of embattled Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta over his role in prosecuting a sexual abuse scandal more than a decade ago.
North Carolina Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis aren’t among them.
Acosta, a former federal prosecutor, is facing mounting pressure to step down this week after wealthy hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was arrested on Saturday and charged with sex trafficking amid accusations that he repeatedly abused underage girls. The accusations were detailed at length in an investigative series published last year by the Miami Herald.
As a U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta signed off in 2007 on what critics label a sweetheart deal. The agreement allowed Epstein to avoid federal prosecution and to serve 13 months in jail rather than potentially facing life in prison.
Asked whether Acosta ought to resign in light of his role in the plea deal, Burr said Wednesday, “That’s up to the administration.”
Tillis said in a brief interview, “I haven’t read the specifics. All I’ve seen is what’s reported, so I don’t know what the circumstances were of the agreement.”
Asked about Epstein, Tillis said, “He needs to go to jail for the rest of his life and I think that he will.”
Both Burr and Tillis voted to confirm Acosta as President Trump’s labor secretary in 2017.
Other lawmakers — including top Democrats in both chambers of Congress — have issued pointed calls for Acosta’s resignation.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Acosta chose to let a “serial sex trafficker of children” off easy. “This is not acceptable,” Schumer added on the Senate floor. “We cannot have as one of the leading appointed officials in America someone who has done this, plain and simple.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote on Twitter that Acosta “must step down. As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement [with] Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice.”
North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams (D-12th) also called for his resignation in a statement issued Wednesday:
“As a US Attorney, Secretary Acosta was charged with upholding the law and deploying fair justice. Yet, when it came time to prosecute Jeffrey Epstein, he gave a slap on the wrist to a rich man who violated young girls. Secretary Acosta’s record speaks for itself – he is unfit to serve and must resign immediately.”
Acosta, meanwhile, is digging in this week as he attempts to hold on to his job amid increasing pressure to leave his job. He held a news conference Wednesday in which he boasted of his “outstanding” relationship with Trump.
“He has very publicly made clear that I’ve got his support. He spoke yesterday in the Oval Office, he and I have spoken,” Acosta said, according to Politico.
The labor secretary has been defending his role in Epstein’s prosecution in Florida, and said he welcomed the new charges filed in New York over the weekend.
“The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence,” Acosta wrote on Twitter.
Trump said he’ll be looking “very closely” at how Acosta handled Epstein’s case, according to the Associated Press. The president also lauded Acosta’s performance on the job and said he felt “very badly” for him.
Although Trump and his aides have recently sought to distance the president from Epstein, Trump told New York Magazine in 2002 that he’d known Epstein for 15 years. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side,” Trump was quoted saying.
Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the States Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.