US Labor Secretary defends plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein, citing a different era

US Labor Secretary defends plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein, citing a different era

(Written by Katie Rogers, Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker)

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday defended his handling of the sex crimes prosecution of financier Jeffrey Epstein in Florida more than a decade ago, bucking a growing chorus of Democratic resignation calls while effectively making the case to President Donald Trump to keep his job.

At a televised news conference watched intently in the White House, Acosta offered a clinical explanation of the 2008 plea deal, arguing that he overrode state authorities to ensure Epstein would face jail time and that holding out for a stiffer sentence by going to trial would have been “a roll of the dice.”

Explained | The case against Jeffrey Epstein

“I wanted to help them,” Acosta, who was the top federal prosecutor in Miami at the time, said of the victims during an hourlong session with reporters at the Labor Department. “That is why we intervened. And that’s what the prosecutors of my office did — they insisted that he go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator.”

The deal has come under renewed scrutiny since Epstein was charged on Monday in New York with running a sex-trafficking operation that lured dozens of girls, some as young as 14, to his Manhattan home and to a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.

While condemning Epstein’s “horrific” crimes, Acosta offered no apologies. Instead, he offered a measured, nuanced defense while suggesting that times had changed in a way that made his compromise a decade ago look different.

“Today we know a lot more about how victims’ trauma impacts their testimony,” he said. “Our juries are more accepting of contradictory statements, understand that memories work differently. And today our judges do not allow victim-shaming by defense attorneys.”

Jeffrey Epstein was a ‘terrific guy,’ Donald Trump once said. Now he’s ‘not a fan.’

For Acosta, the real question was how his defense would go over with the president, who urged him to publicly explain his decisions as a prosecutor. Trump was assured by aides that Acosta did well during his news conference, and the president did not immediately signal disagreement, advisers said.