Labor Secretary Alex Acosta said on Friday 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 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 the top federal prosecutor in Florida in 2007 and 2008, Mr Acosta signed off on a lenient plea deal with Mr 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 Mr Epstein for crimes he committed outside Florida, and that they aren’t bound by Mr Acosta’s plea deal. Mr Epstein has been charged with trafficking girls as young as 14 for sex in the latest case.
Mr Acosta said on Wednesday in a news conference that Mr 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 Mr Epstein’s victims, who didn’t 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. He said he had told Mr Acosta he didn’t have to resign.
Mr Trump said Mr Acosta’s deputy, Patrick Pizzella, will become acting secretary of the Labor Department. 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 to 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 and was sentenced to federal prison after pleading guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.