US Labour chief quits in scandal's fallout

US President Donald Trump with Labour Secretary Alex Acosta, who is quitting amid scrutiny of a plea deal he negotiated for Jeffrey Epstein. PHOTO: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump with Labour Secretary Alex Acosta, who is quitting amid scrutiny of a plea deal he negotiated for Jeffrey Epstein. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • US Labour Secretary Alex Acosta yesterday said he would resign, in a surprise appearance with President Donald Trump.

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

Mr 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 Florida's top federal prosecutor in 2007 and 2008, Mr 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.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said on Monday that they were charging Epstein over crimes which he had committed outside Florida, and that they are not bound by Mr Acosta's plea deal.

In the latest case, Epstein has been charged with trafficking girls as young as 14 for sex.

Mr Acosta said on 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 criticised by some Democrats for not offering an apology to Epstein's victims, who did not 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," Mr Trump said, adding that he had told Mr Acosta he did not have to resign.

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

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

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

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2019, with the headline 'US Labour chief quits in scandal's fallout'. Print Edition | Subscribe