Labor chief Acosta to quit after furor over Epstein sex inquiry

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta said Friday he would resign in a surprise appearance with President Donald Trump.

“I thought the right thing was to step aside,” Acosta told reporters at the White House. “It would be selfish for me to stay in this position.”

Trump said Acosta’s deputy, Patrick Pizzella, will become acting secretary of the Labor Department. Pizzella is regarded by Democrats and labor unions as more aggressively pro-business than Acosta.

Acosta leaves after heightened scrutiny of his handling of sexual misconduct charges against Jeffrey Epstein following the announcement of the financier’s indictment on Monday. As the top federal prosecutor in south Florida in 2007 and 2008, Acosta signed off on a lenient plea deal with Epstein that allowed him to resolve the earlier charges by serving 13 months in a county jail and registering as a sex offender.

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Alex Acosta pauses while speaking during a press conference at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. on July 10, 2019. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Monday that they were charging Epstein for crimes he committed outside Florida, and that they aren’t bound by Acosta’s plea deal. Epstein has been charged with trafficking girls as young as 14 for sex in the latest case.

Acosta said Wednesday in a news conference that Epstein would have escaped jail time altogether had his office not been involved in the earlier case. But he was criticized by some Democrats for not offering an apology to Epstein’s victims, who didn’t know about the plea deal while it was being negotiated.

“In so many ways I hate what he’s saying now because we’re going to miss him,” Trump said. He said he had told Acosta he didn’t have to resign.

Pizzella previously worked with notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff to try to shield a tiny cluster of Pacific Islands from federal labor and immigration laws.

Abramoff was the subject of one of the largest congressional lobbying scandals in recent history and was sentenced to federal prison after pleading guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.

Bloomberg News