Top Democrats in Congress call on labor secretary to resign over handling of Epstein deal

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 7/9/2019, 12:18 p.m.
Top congressional Democrats are calling for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign over his handling more than a decade ago ...
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign over his handling more than a decade ago of a plea deal for multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was recently charged with allegedly having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls./Source: Al Drago/Getty Images

By Clare Foran, Ted Barrett and Devan Cole, CNN

(CNN) -- Top congressional Democrats are calling for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign over his handling more than a decade ago of a plea deal for multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein amid a debate on Capitol Hill over whether Congress should investigate the agreement.

Federal prosecutors in New York unsealed a criminal indictment on Monday charging Epstein with having allegedly operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday called for Acosta's resignation after accusing him of having "cut Epstein a sweetheart deal while Acosta was a US attorney in Florida in 2008."

In remarks on the Senate floor, Schumer said that "it is now impossible for anyone to have confidence in Secretary Acosta's ability to lead the Department of Labor. If he refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him."

Schumer's call comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday called for Acosta to resign, saying in a tweet, "(Secretary Acosta) must step down. 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 @POTUS when he appointed him to the cabinet. #AcostaResign."

Acosta defended his handling of the matter on Tuesday afternoon and said that he is pleased that "prosecutors are moving forward."

"The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence," Acosta wrote in a series of tweets on Tuesday. "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."

A debate on Capitol Hill

It's not yet clear what role, if any, Congress will play in probing the deal that is now under intense scrutiny. While pressure is growing on Capitol Hill for Acosta to step down, so far the pressure is only coming from Democrats, not Republicans.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Health, Education and Labor Committee, said on Monday that he sees no reason for Acosta to resign.

"I see no need for that," the senator from Tennessee said when asked about the calls from some Democrats.

Alexander argued that the plea agreement Acosta oversaw when he was the US attorney in Florida was thoroughly vetted by his committee when Acosta was nominated for labor secretary and was consistent with department policy.

On Tuesday, Schumer called for hearings and said the Department of Justice should make public its review of Acosta's role in the case.

"This review cannot be kept in the dark," Schumer said, adding, "and there should be hearings."

Schumer added that President Donald Trump needs to explain his relationship with Epstein, who Trump praised in a past interview, even noting that Epstein had a fondness for young women.