WASHINGTON, D.C. — Embattled Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta is stepping down amid mounting criticism of a plea deal he struck with a convicted sex offender while Acosta was a federal prosecutor in Florida.
Trump told reporters that Acosta called him Friday morning. The president said, “It’s his (Acosta’s) decision.”
In a White House known for unusually high turnover, Acosta is the latest member of Trump’s top aides to leave under a cloud of ethical or legal problems.
Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire businessman who has socialized with Presidents Trump and Clinton, was charged with luring teenage girls to his Palm Beach mansion for sex but received a lenient punishment under a plea deal that Acosta negotiated in 2008 when he was a U.S. attorney.
Under that agreement, Epstein — who otherwise faced a potential sentence of life in prison — pleaded guilty to two felony solicitation charges and was sentenced to 13 months in county jail. He received permission to work from his office six days a week.
Prosecutors did not inform Epstein’s victims about the arrangement. In February, a judge ruled that Acosta violated the law by not telling them about the deal.
The Justice Department subsequently opened an investigation into Acosta’s handling of the Epstein case.
Acosta has denied any wrongdoing, but the lenient plea deal gave rise to complaints that Epstein was granted favorable treatment because of his wealth and social connections.
The controversy reignited this week when federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein with allegedly bringing underage girls to his Manhattan apartment and abusing them.
Acosta had run afoul of the White House for other issues, however. Some of Trump’s advisors argued that he had not aggressively pursued deregulation and other pro-business initiatives that Trump favored, Bloomberg reported.
Before he joined the administration in 2017, Acosta served on the National Labor Relations Board and as an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President George W. Bush.