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Washington

Labor Secretary Acosta’s handling of past plea deal under investigation

U.S. labor secretary Alexander Acosta speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a meeting of the President’s National Council for the American Worker at the White House in Washington.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta's past conduct is garnering renewed attention as the Department of Justice and White House investigate whether he, as a federal prosecutor, violated the law during plea deal negotiations with billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2007-'08.

The Department of Justice office of professional responsibility opened an investigation earlier this month into allegations that DOJ attorneys, including Mr. Acosta, may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which Mr. Epstein's criminal matter was resolved.

Mr. Epstein sexually abused more than 30 minor girls from about 1999 to 2007 at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., according to court documents.

On Feb. 21, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the federal prosecutors did not adequately keep Mr. Epstein's victims informed about the plea deal negotiations while they were ongoing. "While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the (non-prosecution agreement) with Epstein's attorneys, scant information was shared with victims," Mr. Marra wrote. "Instead, the victims were told to be 'patient' while the investigation proceeded."

Mr. Acosta, who was named in Mr. Marra's ruling, was the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida at the time.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Feb. 22 that the administration is "looking into the matter."

Following the ruling, 19 House Democrats signed a letter to President Donald Trump calling on Mr. Acosta to resign. "We strongly believe that Secretary Acosta was negligent in his duty to represent the best interests of the victims and the U.S. government," the letter states. "As such, we request that you immediately demand his letter of resignation."

In a statement, a DOL official said the federal prosecutors' actions in the case have been defended across the last three administrations and the decisions were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures. The official declined to comment further, citing ongoing litigation.

The DOJ's office of professional responsibility said in a letter to Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee, that it will "thoroughly investigate the allegations of misconduct that have been raised and, consistent with its practice, will share its results with you at the conclusion of its investigation as appropriate."

Mr. Trump nominated Mr. Acosta in February 2017. How Mr. Acosta and his colleagues handled the Epstein case was brought up during his Senate confirmation hearing. The Senate went on to confirm his nomination in April 2017 in a 60-38 vote. Nine Democrats and one independent were among those voting in favor of his appointment.

The renewed look into the case was brought about after the Miami Herald spoke to several of Mr. Epstein's victims and published a story in November about how the alleged abuse and subsequent plea deal unfolded.