House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday called for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign over his handling more than a decade ago of a plea deal for multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was recently charged with allegedly having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls.
"(Secretary 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. This was known by @POTUS when he appointed him to the cabinet. #AcostaResign," Pelosi, a California Democrat, wrote in a tweet.
Acosta's handling of the plea deal in 2008 for Acosta has come under intense scrutiny in recent months after a Miami Herald investigation that examined how it was handled by Acosta, who served at the time served as US attorney.
The non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors allowed the hedge fund manager to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges and serve just 13 months in prison.
The Herald investigation said Acosta gave Epstein the "deal of a lifetime" despite a federal investigation identifying 36 underage victims. The agreement, the Herald said, "essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe" and further granted immunity to "any potential co-conspirators" in the case.
In February, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the Department of Justice broke the law by failing to confer with Epstein's victims about the agreement.
Acosta defended his handling of the Epstein case during his confirmation hearing in March 2017.
"At the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within a prosecutor's office decide that a plea -- that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally and that guarantees other outcomes -- is a good thing," he said at the time.
Asked in February whether President Donald Trump had lost confidence in his labor secretary, then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said she was "not aware of any changes in that front," and stressed the White House would be looking into the federal judge's ruling.
A senior Trump administration official was cautious this week in assessing Acosta's standing with the White House in the wake of Epstein's indictment on Monday, which alleges that between 2002 and 2005, Epstein ran a trafficking enterprise in which he paid hundreds of dollars in cash to girls as young as 14 to have sex with him at his Upper East Side home and at his estate in Palm Beach. It also alleged he worked with employees and associates to lure the girls to his residences and paid some of his victims to recruit other girls for him to abuse.
"We will wait and see what develops. This is obviously a significant event," the official said about the Epstein case. "We need to see what comes of it."
The official noted there was an internal administration review of Acosta's handling of the Epstein case. But the official could not say whether that review had been completed.