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Acosta's Standing in White House Was Eroding Even Before Epstein

Acosta's Standing in White House Was Eroding Even Before Epstein
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Monday, 08 July 2019 07:53 PM

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s standing in the Trump administration was in peril even before the indictment of Jeffrey Epstein cast a fresh spotlight on the former prosecutor’s role in a decade-old plea deal for the financier, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Corporate lobbyists and some White House officials have grown frustrated that Acosta hasn’t moved fast enough on deregulation and other business-friendly initiatives, the people said. No decision has been made on Acosta’s future in the administration, they added, though two people said that his time is short.

As a U.S. attorney in South Florida in 2008, Acosta brokered a plea agreement in secret with Epstein that allowed him to escape serious punishment for earlier allegations of sexual misconduct. Acosta’s dealings with Epstein are under renewed scrutiny after federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged Epstein on Monday with sex trafficking and conspiracy.

The indictment unsealed Monday could be just the beginning. One former administration official said Acosta will face increasing pressure as more documents are revealed in the Epstein case, particularly if they shed new light on what Acosta knew at the time of the plea deal.

The people asked not to be identified discussing Acosta’s future because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Acosta so far has benefited politically by the fact that few top congressional Democrats have so far called for his exit, the former official said.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, renewed her demand that he resign on Monday. Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said Monday that Acosta “made a horrible decision that mistreated these youngsters.”

“He’s demonstrated that he will side with a powerful person and deep-six people who are vulnerable, and you don’t need somebody like that being secretary of Labor,” Kaine said.

In November, the Miami Herald published a five-part series on the deal Acosta struck with Epstein, which was concealed from the financier’s victims until after it was approved by a judge.

Epstein had been accused of assembling a “cult-like network of underage girls” for sex acts at his Palm Beach mansion, the newspaper reported, and could have spent the rest of his life in prison. Instead, under his deal with Acosta, he served 13 months in a county jail.

The Epstein case provides further ammunition for critics of the department and Acosta’s record as secretary, one lobbyist who communicates with the administration on labor issues said.

A Labor Department spokesman said in an email that the secretary won’t resign. Senate Republicans with jurisdiction over the Labor Department have yet to criticize Acosta.

Acosta’s plea deal with Epstein was reviewed when Trump nominated him to be Labor secretary, according to Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“This was a prosecutorial judgement that was made by Secretary Acosta and was vetted by our committee,” Alexander said in a statement. “The Justice Department under the last three presidents — Trump, Obama, and Bush — have all defended his handling of the case.”

Were Acosta to resign or be forced out, current deputy secretary Patrick Pizzella would become acting secretary. Pizzella is regarded as more aggressively pro-business than Acosta, which may be one reason the current secretary hasn’t come under broader attack from Democrats and labor unions.

Acosta was nominated and sworn in as secretary in 2017. He was a former National Labor Relations Board member, served as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush and was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

A former law school dean and thrice-Senate-confirmed official from the Bush administration, Acosta enjoyed 18 months on Trump’s Cabinet with minimal controversy. He had the support of the president and a positive relationship with his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump.

More recently, circumstances have shifted for the labor secretary. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s arrival in the West Wing in January led to the imposition of a new policy in which regulatory disagreements between agency and White House aides were elevated to Mulvaney for a final decision. At the same time, some White House officials complained that Acosta and his senior staff were slow-walking efforts to reverse Obama-administration policies.

Trump said he didn’t know the details of the Epstein case when reporters asked him about it on Sunday as he departed his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort.

© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.


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Labor Secretary Alex Acosta's standing in the Trump administration was in peril even before the indictment of Jeffrey Epstein cast a fresh spotlight on the former prosecutor's role in a decade-old plea deal for the financier, according to several people familiar with the...
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2019-53-08
Monday, 08 July 2019 07:53 PM
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