Fri, 10 Jul 2020

Democratic Party leaders called on Tuesday for the resignation of President Donald Trump's secretary of labor over a secret plea deal he made a decade ago with a wealthy hedge fund manager accused of sexually abusing young girls.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, 50, was serving as a federal prosecutor in Florida when his office entered into the controversial plea agreement with lawyers for financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Epstein, 66, was charged on Monday by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.

The well-connected Epstein, whose friends have included Trump, former president Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, faced similar charges in Florida a decade ago but managed to escape a stiff sentence through the plea agreement with Acosta's office.

The plea deal was kept secret from Epstein's victims until his sentencing. Under the deal, he pleaded guilty to a state charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor and served 13 months in a county jail.

"@SecretaryAcosta must step down," Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a tweet.

"As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement w/Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice. This was known by (President Trump) when he appointed him to the cabinet. #AcostaResign."

New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, also called for Acosta to step down.

"Epstein should have been behind bars years ago but unfortunately Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta cut Epstein a sweetheart deal," Schumer said.

"We cannot have as one of the leading appointed officials in America someone who has done this," he added.

Acosta on Tuesday welcomed the renewed prosecution of Epstein.

"With the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator," Acosta tweeted.

"Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice," he said.

Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to the charges which carry a maximum of 45 years in prison. A bail hearing was set for Thursday.

According to prosecutors, Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage girls at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005. Some were as young as 14.

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