Dems try to turn up heat on Acosta over sex abuse plea deal

Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on July 6.

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are trying to increase pressure on Labor Secretary Alex Acosta over his handling of a secret plea deal with a wealthy financier accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.

A group of House Democrats sent a letter to the attorney general on Friday asking the Justice Department to reopen the deal with Jeffrey Epstein to allow further investigation. They also want the department to make public the results of a department review into federal prosecutors’ management of the case, which happened when Acosta served as U.S. Attorney in Miami.

“It is at this critical juncture that the agency has an opportunity to foster greater transparency and accountability with the American public,” says the letter, which was led by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Lois Frankel of Florida and Jackie Speier of California, and signed by other Democrats.

The fresh push from Democrats underscored their efforts to keep the heat on the official whom President Donald Trump has chosen to oversee labor issues. But so far the White House has not signaled great urgency in reviewing the case or in changing Acosta’s standing.

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is examining whether professional misconduct took place in the case. The department declined to comment on the letter.

Epstein, now 66, reached a non-prosecution deal in 2008 with Acosta’s former office to secretly end a federal sex abuse investigation involving at least 40 teenage girls that could have landed him behind bars for life. He instead pleaded guilty to state charges, spent 13 months in jail, paid settlements to victims and is a registered sex offender.

A federal judge has ruled that prosecutors in Florida violated the rights of victims by reaching the non-prosecution agreement with Epstein. In that decision, the judge stopped short of invalidating the non-prosecution agreement but asked prosecutors and victims’ lawyers to recommend how to move forward. The victims have called for the deal to be put aside and want prosecutors to charge Epstein federally, but it is unclear when or if that would happen.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said last week that the administration was “looking into the case,” but it has not provided any additional information.

Between his diplomatic venture to Vietnam, the border funding showdown with Congress and the Capitol Hill testimony of his former personal lawyer, it’s not clear this case is currently a priority for the president. Trump recently said he didn’t know much about the case but volunteered that Acosta has done “a great job” as labor secretary. On the Epstein case, Trump added, “That seems like a long time ago.”

Trump was friendly with Epstein in the past, telling New York Magazine in 2002: “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy.” He added: “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

The White House did not answer questions about Trump’s relationship to Epstein.

Acosta has defended the deal as appropriate but has not commented since a recent series of articles in the Miami Herald about how the agreement came about. The Labor Department issued a statement recently saying the secretary welcomes the Justice Department probe.

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