WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday came to the defense of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, saying he felt “very badly” for him as congressional Democrats revived their calls for Acosta to resign over his role brokering a plea deal for billionaire Jeffrey Epstein on sex abuse charges in 2008.
Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, also distanced himself from his prior praise of Epstein, who was indicted in Manhattan federal court on Monday on charges that he engaged in the sex trafficking of minors. The president, who in a 2002 New York Magazine interview called Epstein a “terrific guy,” said Tuesday that he had a falling out with the wealthy financier and hadn’t spoken with him in 15 years.
“I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him,” Trump said. “He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn’t a fan.”
Trump in 2002 told New York Magazine he had known Epstein for 15 years, and noted his penchant for “younger” women.
“He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump said at the time. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Epstein, who associated with other notable figures, from Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew to lawyer Alan Dershowitz, was arrested on Saturday at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey after prosecutors from the Southern District of New York opened a new case against him following a series of reports by The Miami Herald that detailed the unique deal Acosta reached with Epstein’s lawyers during his time as U.S. attorney in Miami.
The deal allowed Epstein to plead guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting prostitutes, and serve only 13 months in a local jail although federal investigators had identified more than 30 minors who accused Epstein of sexual abuse. He was also required to register as a sex offender and pay restitution to his victims, but ultimately was allowed to avoid a federal trial and the ensuing media scrutiny.
Earlier this year, a federal judge in South Florida ruled prosecutors, including Acosta, had acted improperly by failing to notify Epstein’s victims about the terms of the deal before it was finalized.
The renewed interest in the case has prompted calls from congressional Democrats for Acosta to step down, but Trump has repeatedly given his labor secretary his vote of confidence.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a Tuesday tweet revived his call for Acosta to resign.
“Jeffrey Epstein should have been behind bars years ago as a serial sex trafficker of children,” Schumer, the senate minority leader, tweeted. "But unfortunately as a U.S. Attorney in Florida in 2008, [Acosta] chose to let Epstein off easy. Acosta must resign. If he refuses, @realDonaldTrump should fire him.”
On Tuesday, when asked about Acosta’s future, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office: “I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta because I've known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation.”
The president said he would be revisiting the details of Acosta’s role in the case.
“We're going to be looking at that and looking at it very closely,” Trump said.
Acosta came to his own defense in a series of Tuesday tweets, saying, “The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence.”
“Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice,” Acosta tweeted.