U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta defended his handling of Jeffrey Epstein’s plea deal when he was the top federal prosecutor in southern Florida over a decade ago, and said his relationship with President Donald Trump is good, despite the renewed scrutiny since Epstein’s arrest over the weekend on fresh charges out of New York.
The 2007 non-prosecution agreement allowed the wealthy money manager to dodge federal charges for having sex with minors and to serve just 13 months in a state prison. Most of that time was spent on work release, so he could run his fund from his office.
Here are the latest developments from the press conference:
TREATMENT OF EPSTEIN’S VICTIMS
A reporter asked Acosta if he owes an apology to young women who told Acosta at the time that they’d been abused by Epstein and didn’t hear back from the prosecutor. Acosta said the deal with Epstein had an unusual provision that would let victims get restitution, and Epstein would have to pay for their lawyer.
“We wanted to win. We wanted to put Epstein away, and talking about this would allow him to make the argument at trial that their testimony was compromised.”
Even after Epstein got his lenient deal, he was eventually accused by some victims of violating the non-prosecution agreement by challenging his liability in their civil personal injury suits and failing to the legal fees to the lawyer for the victims as he was required to do. He settled that suit over fees for an undisclosed sum.
IT’S HARD TO REFUSE A PLEA IN FAVOR OF TRIAL
Acosta said it’s hard to weigh guilty pleas against trials.
“How do you weigh those two if going to trial is viewed as the role of a dice,” he said. “The goal here was straightforward – put Epstein behind bars and ensure he registered as sex offender.”
He’s focusing his defense of his actions on blaming state officials and a state grand jury that, according to Acosta, viewed evidence of Epstein’s behavior and only wanted to recommend a single charge.”
“A state grand jury brought that single completely unacceptable charge,” Acosta said. “A state official allowed Epstein to self surrender. So it is unusual — it’s unusual for a federal prosecutor to intervene in a state matter such as this.”
ACOSTA CALLS EPSTEIN ACTS ‘DESPICABLE’
“Let me start by reiterating that I’m pleased that the New York prosecution is going forward,” Acosta said in opening the press conference. “They brought this on new evidence.”
“His acts are despicable and the New York prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring Epstein to justice,” Acosta said.
Acosta defended his handling of the case in 2007 and 2008, saying state authorities in Florida were willing to let Epstein “walk free” and that’s why his office intervened. Some victims refused to testify and some even exonerated Epstein, Acosta said. They wanted to remain private and didn’t want to be named, complicating prosecution.
Critics have called for Acosta to resign say Epstein shouldn’t have gotten such lenient deal after his federal investigators determined he sexually abused dozens of girls. Epstein’s deal has also been slammed for the way it was designed to make the case go away quietly; the victims weren’t notified and Acosta’s staff worked to keep the press from finding out about it.
The controversy was stoked anew on Monday when federal prosecutors unsealed fresh sex-trafficking charges against Epstein. Epstein’s lawyers argue vehemently that the Florida plea deal means he can’t be pursued in New York under double-jeopardy rules, a claim the prosecutors refute.
INSIDE THE PRESS CONFERENCE
The press conference room is packed with media. The room is right down the hall from the secretary’s executive suite, and three American flags are set up behind an empty lecturn. Multiple network TV crews here. Notably, Acosta will be accompanied by Erica Wright, the acting head of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau.
Wide speculation inside Labor Department is that Acosta will come out swinging to impress Trump (Kavanaugh-style) at the press conference.