By Glenn Thrush and Patricia Mazzei

New York Times News Service

Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta on Tuesday faced fresh calls to resign, and rising pressure from inside the Trump administration, over his role in brokering a lenient plea deal over sex crimes for New York financier Jeffrey E. Epstein as a federal prosecutor in Miami more than a decade ago.

Acosta, 50, said this week that the plea agreement, in which Epstein served 13 months in jail after being accused of sexually abusing dozens of young women and girls, was the toughest deal available in a complex and difficult case. The prosecution, he said, would have stood a far better chance of succeeding in the state courts — the same argument he has been making for years.

“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 Tuesday on Twitter.

“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,” he continued.

That is not likely to satisfy critics, who have long contended that Epstein should have faced a far harsher charge than a single count in state court of soliciting prostitution from a minor. The unusual arrangement reached with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office allowed Epstein to leave the county stockade six days a week to go to work. His jail sentence was for 18 months, but he was released five months early.

And in a twist that was later ruled illegal, the agreement between Acosta and one of Epstein’s lawyers, Jay P. Lefkowitz, was initially kept secret from Epstein’s victims.

The indictment Monday of Epstein by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, on child sex trafficking charges represents a grave threat to Acosta and an implicit rebuke of the deal he cut as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Congress’ top Democrats called for his resignation, as did The Miami Herald, which uncovered the details of the plea deal.

President Donald Trump, in remarks while he met with the emir of Qatar, said Tuesday that he felt “badly” for Acosta and praised him as “an excellent secretary of labor.” He added, “I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him,” a reference to the Epstein deal.

Two senior administration officials said Trump’s support for Acosta could quickly evaporate if more damaging details emerged about the plea agreement.

23609430