Trump defends Acosta amid resignation calls over Epstein case
As Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta faces mounting calls from Democrats to resign over his involvement in a plea deal for financier Jeffrey Epstein, President Trump tells the press that Acosta has been a great secretary of labor and the White House is looking at the case closely.
President Trump said Tuesday he was “not a fan” of financier Jeffrey Epstein, despite making comments in the past praising the wealthy hedge fund manager.
During a meeting in the Oval Office with the emir of Qatar, the president was asked about his relationship with Epstein, 66, who pleaded not guilty Monday to sex trafficking in New York federal court.
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“I know him, just like everybody in Palm Beach knew him,” Trump said. “People in Palm Beach knew him. He was a fixture in Palm Beach.”
“I had a falling out with him a long time ago,” Trump continued. “I don’t think I’ve spoken to him in 15 years. I was not a fan. I was not a fan of his. That I can tell you. I was not a fan.”
Back in 2002, when New York Magazine was profiling Epstein, Trump touted their relationship.
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump reportedly said. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
Epstein and Trump were said to have been friends—something the president’s legal team has denied.
Trump banned Epstein from his Mar-a-Lago estate “because Epstein sexually assaulted an underage girl at the club,” according to court documents filed by Bradley Edwards, the lawyer who has represented several Epstein accusers.
Epstein was also once friends with former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew.
Clinton, on Monday, released a statement acknowledging that he had taken a total of four trips on Epstein’s private jet, but said he “knows nothing” about the “terrible crimes” linked to Epstein.
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Separately, claims in court showed that Trump may have flown on the jet at least once as well.
Meanwhile, Trump on Tuesday also defended Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who is facing mounting calls to resign over his handling of Epstein’s case a decade ago. Acosta, who was U.S. attorney for Florida at the time, helped Epstein to secure a plea deal that resulted in an 18-month sentence—he served just 13 months. The deal was criticized as lenient because Epstein could have faced a life sentence. Acosta negotiated a deal that resulted in two state solicitation charges, but no federal charges.
“I met Secretary Acosta when I made the deal to bring him onto the administration. I can tell you that for two and a half years, he has been just an excellent secretary of labor. He’s done a fantastic job,” Trump said. “What happened 12 or 15 years ago with respect to when he was a U.S. attorney I think in Miami—if you go back and look at everybody else’s decisions, whether it’s a U.S. attorney, or an assistant U.S. attorney, or a judge, you go back, 12, 15 years and look at past decisions—I think you’d probably find that they would wish they did it a different way.”
Trump added that he “heard there were a lot of people involved” in the Epstein decision, “not just him.”
“I can only say this from what I know, and what I do know is he has been a really great secretary of labor—the rest of it, we’ll have to look at it. We’ll have to look at it very carefully,” he said. “I feel very badly actually for Secretary Acosta because I have known him as being someone who has done such a good job. I feel very badly about that situation.”
Acosta is not the only administration official facing questions over the Epstein case.
Attorney General Bill Barr on Monday had said he would recuse himself from the case due to his past legal work at a firm that represented Epstein in 2008. But a Justice Department official told Fox News on Tuesday that after consulting with career ethics officials, Barr will not recuse himself from the current case being led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. The attorney general, though, will remain recused from any “retrospective review” of the 2008 case.
Epstein was charged this week with sex trafficking and conspiracy during the early 2000s. Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday in New York City federal court.
“The victims described herein were as young as 14 years old at the time they were abused…and were, for various reasons, often particularly vulnerable to exploitation,” prosecutors wrote in court documents. “Epstein intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18.”
Epstein allegedly created and maintained a “vast network” and operation from 2002 “up to and including” at least 2005 that enabled him to “sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls” in addition to paying victims to recruit other underage girls.
Prosecutors also allege Epstein “worked and conspired with others, including employees and associates” who helped facilitate his conduct by contacting victims and scheduling their sexual encounters with the 66-year-old at his mansion in New York City and Palm, Beach, Fla.
Victims would be paid hundreds of dollars in cash by either Epstein or one of his associates or employees, according to prosecutors. The 66-year-old also allegedly “incentivized his victims” to become recruiters by paying the victim-recruiters hundreds of dollars for each girl brought to him.
Fox News’ Travis Fedschun and The Associated Press contributed to this report.