The Slatest

Acosta Resigns, Calling Criticism of His Lenience in Jeffrey Epstein Case a Distraction to Administration

Acosta speaks at a lectern against a blue backdrop and American flags.
Ex-Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta announced Friday that he is resigning under criticism for his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein sexual abuse case.

Acosta, as a U.S. attorney in southern Florida, negotiated a plea agreement with Epstein, a well-connected hedge fund manager, in which Epstein admitted to having solicited a minor for sex. Despite what we now know to have been evidence that Epstein may have abused significant numbers of other underage girls in similar fashion, Acosta’s agreement allowed him to serve a short sentence in a local jail from which he was allowed to leave every day to work.

On Monday, Epstein was accused by federal prosecutors in New York of additional crimes involving the traffic and sexual abuse of minors between 2002 and 2005; authorities also say they recovered graphic photos from his New York home that appear to depict underage girls. (He has pleaded not guilty.) On Wednesday, Acosta defended his treatment of Epstein at a D.C. press conference, arguing that he was limited by other prosecutors’ decisions and victims’ reticence to testify. Now he’s quitting in what his official resignation letter says is an effort to avoid burdening the administration with “distractions”—for what it’s worth (i.e., very little), Donald Trump says Acosta’s departure is not occurring under pressure from above.

One lesson of the Trump era has been that scandals which have traditionally been considered career-killers can be weathered simply by waiting for the media to move on to another story. Why Acosta decided not to attempt such a trick is not yet clear, though the fact that Epstein’s new prosecution will likely be in the news for some time might have something to do with it. Insider-sourced reports have also said Acosta was coming under criticism from White House officials for his lack of aggression on policy issues even before Epstein’s new arrest.