(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Trump's Labor Secretary Alex Acosta has resigned

Acosta on Wednesday defended his handling of a sex trafficking case involving now-jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein

July 12, 2019 - 8:49 am

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump says Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is stepping down following criticism of his handling of a plea deal with a wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.

Trump announced the news with Acosta by his side at the White House as Trump left on a trip to the Midwest.

Acosta says stepping aside was the right decision.

He was the U.S. attorney in Miami when he oversaw a 2008 nonprosecution agreement with Epstein. Epstein avoided federal charges and served 13 months in jail.

Similar charges recently filed against Epstein by federal prosecutors in New York had put Acosta's role in the 2008 deal under renewed scrutiny. 

Acosta on Wednesday defended his handling of the sex trafficking case involving now-jailed financier Epstein, insisting he got the toughest deal he could at the time. 

Acosta retraced the steps that federal prosecutors took in the case when he was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida a decade ago, insisting that "in our heart we were trying to do the right thing for these victims." He said prosecutors were working to avoid a more lenient arrangement that would have allowed Epstein to "walk free."

"We believe that we proceeded appropriately," he said, a contention challenged by critics who say Epstein's penalty was egregiously light.

The episode reignited this week when federal prosecutors in New York brought a new round of child sex trafficking charges against the wealthy hedge fund manager. And on Wednesday, a new accuser stepped forward to say Epstein raped her in his New York mansion when she was 15.

Last week, Acosta was in St. Louis to discuss labor training and stopped by Purina headquarters in downtown as well as local community college officials, to award a $12 million grant to the Missouri Community College Consortium.

This is a breaking news story that will be updated