Trump’s labour secretary quits over Epstein sex crimes scandal

Alexander Acosta criticised for role in prosecution of disgraced financier in 2008

US president Donald Trump and labour secretary Alexander Acosta on Friday,  as Mr Acosta resigned. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump and labour secretary Alexander Acosta on Friday, as Mr Acosta resigned. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

 

US secretary of labour Alexander Acosta has resigned, following days of mounting pressure over his role in prosecuting disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago.

Announcing the decision on Friday morning alongside Mr Acosta, Mr Trump said it was Mr Acosta’s decision to step down. “He’s done a fantastic job, he’s a friend of everybody in the administration,” he said, adding that Mr Acosta had phoned him on Friday morning.

“This was him, not me, as I was with him,” he added. “We’re going to miss him.”

Mr Acosta said he did not think it was fair that there was focus on Mr Epstein and not on the jobs market at the labour department. “It would be selfish for me to stay in this position,” he said, confirming he would step down in a week.

The departure of Mr Acosta means that the labour department becomes the latest government agency without a permanent head. The departments of defence and homeland security are being run by temporary appointees.

Mr Acosta, a former federal prosecutor in Florida, was appointed by Mr Trump shortly after his inauguration to the position of labour secretary.

But the 50-year-old Miami native has come under intense political pressure in recent days after prosecutors in the southern district of New York announced fresh sex trafficking offences against Mr Epstein.

Mr Acosta was the United States attorney for the southern district of Florida when Mr Epstein, a high-profile financier with social links to former president Bill Clinton and Mr Trump, struck a non-prosecution agreement in 2008, avoiding a federal prosecution.

The Florida resident pleaded guilty to procuring a young person under 18 for prostitution as part of a co-operation agreement, spending more than a year in prison, though most of his time was spent on work release, allowing him to leave the prison each day. In February, the justice department opened an inquiry into how federal prosecutors handled the case.

Prosecutors for the southern district of New York announced this week that they had arrested Mr Epstein on fresh trafficking charges. According to the indictment, Mr Epstein lured underage girls to his homes in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005 and paid them to engage in sex acts. He remains in jail in New York awaiting his bond hearing next week.

Mr Acosta held a lengthy press conference on Wednesday in whichhe defended his handling of the case and was widely seen to have weathered the storm.

But Mr Trump announced as he left the White House for Wisconsin on Friday that Mr Acosta was stepping down.