Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta defended his conduct Wednesday about when he, as a federal prosecutor, negotiated a plea deal with attorneys for billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2007-'08.
"The goal here was straightforward: Put Epstein behind bars, ensure that he registered as a sexual offender, provide victims with the means to seek restitution and protect the public by putting them on notice that a sexual predator was in their midst," said Mr. Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida at the time, at a news conference Wednesday.
Mr. Epstein sexually abused more than 30 girls from about 1999 to 2007 at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., according to court documents. Following the plea deal in Florida, Mr. Epstein served 13 months in jail and registered as a sex offender.
Mr. Acosta said state prosecutors were prepared to let Mr. Epstein face no jail time until his office stepped in.
Mr. Acosta has been criticized for his role in the deal, and dozens of Democrats in Congress have called for his resignation as labor secretary.
On July 6, Mr. Epstein was arrested and charged with sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors. The indictment, unsealed Monday, alleges that, between 2002 through 2005, Mr. Epstein sexually exploited and abused dozens of underage girls by enticing them to engage in sex acts with him in exchange for money, according to the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.
Mr. Acosta said he's glad new charges have been filed against Mr. Epstein. "He's a bad man, and he needs to be put away," Mr. Acosta said.
In February, the Department of Justice's office of professional responsibility opened an investigation into allegations that DOJ attorneys, including Mr. Acosta, might have committed professional misconduct for the manner in which Mr. Epstein's criminal matter was resolved.
Mr. Acosta said he did not have an update Wednesday on the status of the investigation but said he would voluntarily sit for an interview if requested.
When asked about his job security, Mr. Acosta said he has a good relationship with President Donald Trump, who nominated him as labor secretary in February 2017, but he said he serves at the pleasure of the president and would resign if asked. Mr. Trump has publicly backed Mr. Acosta.
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.
In February, U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that the federal prosecutors did not adequately keep Mr. Epstein's victims informed about the plea deal negotiations while they were ongoing.
On Wednesday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter inviting Mr. Acosta to testify at a public hearing on this subject on July 23.