Jeffrey Epstein has been dominating the headlines this week after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York arrested him on charges of child sex trafficking—but over a decade ago, the billionaire was accused, with overwhelming evidence, of similar crimes, and then-prosecutor Alexander Acosta pioneered a lenient plea deal that ended the case.
Acosta is now Secretary of Labor—and he’s facing calls from lawmakers and advocates to step down in the wake of the latest charges against Epstein.
Acosta’s original plea deal for Epstein was negotiated in 2008 without the knowledge of the survivors, illegally keeping them out of the prosecution process. Epstein ultimately served just 13 months in prison, in the private wing of the Palm Beach County jail, with access to amenities including the use of his private jet. In February, a federal judge ruled that prosecutors broke the law when arranging that plea deal.
Acosta, who was named Labor Secretary in 2017, is not the only member of the Trump administration with ties to Epstein. The president himself has praised the financier in the past, even noting that Epstein “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
“Epstein plays by the same rule book as Donald Trump, Les Moonves, Harvey Weinstein, Eric Schneiderman and other powerful men who have been revealed as serial abusers of women,” NOW President Toni Van Pelt said in December. “Epstein’s scant 13-month stay in a county jail—where he was even allowed to spend twelve hours a day, six days a week, at his office, was made possible by a culture of powerful men, enabling each other, while dismissing, excusing or demeaning the women and children they brutalize with physical and sexual violence.”
Trump is now defending Acosta amid calls for the Secretary’s resignation.
“Acosta must step down,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tweeted today. “As U.S. Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement with Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice. This was known by the President when he appointed him to the cabinet.”
She was echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Instead of prosecuting a predator and serial sex trafficker of children, Acosta chose to let him off easy,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor. “This is not acceptable. We cannot have as one of the leading appointed officials in America, someone who has done this, plain and simple.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has also previously called for Acosta’s resignation over the 2008 case, explained to The Guardian this week that his record is incompatible with his current position. “A big part of his job is protecting workers and children from exploitation,” she told reporters, “yet he has demonstrated that he has utter disregard for victims and instead his priority is to protect sexual predators.”
Survivors are also speaking up. “Today we join the chorus of those calling for the resignation of Secretary Alexander Acosta due to his mishandling of the Jeffrey Epstein case,” the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests declared in a statement. “If children are to be safe from sexual violence, those who help minimize these crimes must be punished, not promoted.”
Acosta stripped vulnerable women and girls of their voice by making conscious decisions that benefited the accused—and now is the time for accountability.
“What matters is not when a powerful official helped a powerful predator,” SNAP explained. “What matters is THAT a powerful official helped a powerful predator. That official deserves to be demoted for his hurtful choices.”