President Trump’s embattled labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, resigned on Friday amid a firestorm over the sweetheart deal he struck with accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein in Miami 11 years ago.
Trump, who was joined by Acosta, announced the secretary’s resignation to reporters on the South Lawn before departing to Wisconsin for a fundraiser.
The president said Acosta called him Friday morning to inform him of the decision. Trump said Acosta did a “great” job as labor secretary.
“This was him, not me. Because I’m with him,” Trump said. “He’s a tremendous talent. He’s a Hispanic man. He went to Harvard, a great student. And in so many ways I just hate what he’s saying now, because we’re gonna miss him.”
“He’s Hispanic, which I so admire,” the president added. “Because maybe it was a little tougher for him and maybe not.”
Acosta said the controversy had become a distraction.
“I do not think it is right and fair for this administration’s labor department to have Epstein as a focus,” he said.
Trump said Patrick Pizzella, Acosta’s deputy, will assume the role of acting labor secretary.
Acosta’s resignation comes two days after he held a press conference to defend his handling of a case against Epstein in 2008, when Acosta was the U.S. attorney for Southern District of Florida. Acosta approved a “non-prosecution agreement” that resulted in what many observers have described as a shockingly lenient sentence.
“Times have changed,” Acosta said about the difficulty of securing a guilty verdict against accused sex offenders a decade ago, before the enactment of protections for testifying victims.
In defending the agreement entered into by his office, Acosta laid blame on the Palm Beach attorney’s office for not seeking to charge Epstein with crimes that would result in jail time.
But Barry Krischer, the Palm Beach County attorney in 2007, took issue with Acosta’s version of events, telling the Associated Press that Acosta “should not be allowed to rewrite history.”
“If Mr. Acosta was truly concerned with the state’s case and felt he had to rescue the matter,” Krischer said, “he would have moved forward with the 53-page indictment that his own office drafted.”
Acosta is the latest in a steady stream of scandal-plagued members of the Trump administration to resign or be fired.
National security adviser Michael Flynn, staff secretary Rob Porter, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke are among a long list of administration officials to be ousted amid scandals.
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