- INSIDER reached out to the 56 current senators who voted to confirm Acosta, to see how they are reacting to his involvement in a secret plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein during his tenure as a US attorney in Florida.
- While Republican senator Benjamin Sasse expressed criticism of the DOJ's handling of the Epstein case, he did not say whether he feels Acosta should resign.
- Democrats have been vocal in their calls for Acosta to resign from his position as labor secretary.
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A survey of the 56 senators who confirmed embattled labor secretary Alex Acosta has found that only one of the fifty Republicans who voted in Acosta's favor is openly critical of the former US attorney's handling of Jeffrey Epstein's prosecution.
Acosta is under fire for his involvement in a 2008 plea deal with the billionaire sex offender during his tenure as the US attorney in Miami, with prominent Democratic lawmakers now calling for Acosta to resign.
New sex trafficking charges filed in New York earlier this week against the 66-year-old financier have placed renewed scrutiny on the plea deal brokered by Acosta during his time asa US attorney in Florida. Despite being accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls and facing life in prison, Epstein ultimately pleaded guilty to less serious charges related to prostitution and spent just 13 months in jail, most of it in a work release program that allowed him leave the jail six days a week to work at his private home office. (Epstein also registered as a sex offender as part of the deal).
Epstein's alleged victims were never notified of the secret deal, with a federal judge ruling in February that the Department of Justice violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by not disclosing to them the non-prosecution agreement with Epstein.
During a press conference on Wednesday to address his handling of the Epstein case, particularly the lenient plea deal, Acosta struck back against criticism and suggested the deal was better than nothing. He declined to apologize to victims or offer his regret, instead noting how "we live in a very different world. Today's world treats victims very, very differently."
Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, have demanded that Acosta step down from his position. House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings also sent a letter to Acosta on Wednesday requesting that he testify about his decision to authorize the non-prosecution agreement for Epstein.
INSIDER reached out to all of the current senators who voted to confirm Acosta as Labor Secretary, despite his role in the Epstein deal. At the time that Acosta was confirmed, in April 2017, 60 senators, including eight Democrats, voted in favor of Acosta. Six senators responded back to our request for comment.
Republican criticism over the Justice Department's handling of the Epstein case
Associated Press/Alex Brandon
Republican senator Benjamin Sasse of Nebraska has been vocal in his demands for the Justice Department to investigate its treatment of Epstein, following the shocking Miami Herald investigative series published earlier this year that included interviews from scores of women who said they were sexually abused by the lucrative hedge fund manager.
During Attorney General William Barr's January confirmation hearing , Sasse brought up how the department handled the Epstein case, questioning Barr on whether there would be a thorough investigation into the matter if he was confirmed as Attorney General. "I'll make sure your questions are answered on this case," Barr responded at the time. Sasse ultimately voted to confirm Barr's nomination.
In a statement provided to INSIDER on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Sasse said the senator "believes that Epstein received a pathetically soft sentence and that this cannot happen again," adding that "we will wait to comment on the particular details of past and present DOJ employees until DOJ shares its finding," such as whether he thinks Acosta should resign as labor secretary.
CNN reporter Manu Raju added on Twitter that Sasse "wouldn't comment or take questions moments ago on whether Acosta should resign as Labor secretary."
The only other Republican senator to respond to INSIDER's query was Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions ChairmanLamar Alexander of Tennessee. He described Acosta's handling of the case as "a prosecutial judgement" that was "vetted by our committee."
"The Justice Department under the last three presidents Trump, Obama, and Bush have all defended his handling of the case," Alexander added.
While Trump and Senate Republicans have broadly taken to Acosta's defense in the wake of the Epstein scandal or, like Sasse, opted for the wait-and-see approach, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has been more vocal in calling for the president to dismiss the embattled labor secretary, Politico reported Tuesday . Mulvanely told Trump the day prior that "the continuing drip of damaging information surrounding the 2008 agreement Acosta struck to keep billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein from a heavy jail sentence would hurt the administration."
Republican Senator Marco Rubio also noted on Twitter on Monday that "if the DOJ probe uncovers misconduct in Florida plea agreement those responsible should face consequences."
The following Republican senators who voted to confirm Acosta did not respond for INSIDER's request for comment:
- John Barrasso of Wyoming
- Roy Blunt of Missouri
- John Boozman of Arkansas
- Richard Burr of North Carolina
- Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia
- Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
- Susan Collins of Maine
- John Cornyn of Texas
- Tom Cotton of Arkansas
- Mike Crapo of Idaho
- Ted Cruz of Texas
- Steve Daines of Montana
- Michael Enzi of Wyoming
- Joni Ernst of Iowa
- Deb Fischer of Nebraska
- Cory Gardner of Colorado
- Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
- Chuck Grassley of Iowa
- John Hoeven of North Dakota
- James Inhofe of Oklahoma
- Johnny Isakson of Georgia
- Ron Johnson of Wisconsin
- John Kennedy of Louisiana
- James Lankford of Oklahoma
- Mike Lee of Utah
- Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
- Jerry Moran of Kansas
- Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
- Rand Paul of Kentucky
- David Perdue of Georgia
- Rob Portman of Ohio
- James Risch of Idaho
- Pat Roberts of Kansas
- Mike Rounds of South Dakota
- Marco Rubio of Florida
- Tim Scott of South Carolina
- Richard Shelby of Alabama
- Dan Sullivan of Alaska
- John Thune of South Dakota
- Thom Tillis of North Carolina
- Roger Wicker of Mississippi
- Todd Young of Indiana
Democrats want Acosta out
INSIDER received comments from four of the six Democrats who voted for Acosta's confirmation, including Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada. Senator Angus King of Maine, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, also responded to our inquiry.
Spokespeople for all four senators told INSIDER that they believe Acosta should resign from his post.
Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Menendez of New Jersey did not respond to requests for comment.
King described the allegations against Acosta as "seriously damning," adding "barring a compelling explanation from Secretary Acosta, I don't see how he can continue to lead the department." Others voiced similar sentiment: Warner said "I wanted to give the Secretary a chance to explain himself, his answers have not been sufficient, and I think the appropriate course is for him to resign," while Cortez Masto said , following her review of the recent indictment against Epstein and the reporting from the Herald, that "it's clear to me that Secretary Acosta must resign."
As Democrats continue to pressure Acosta, it remains unclear whether he will respond to the request from Cummings to testify about the non-prosecution agreement, or if he will ultimately resign from his post. The Department of Justice is currently investigating Acosta's role in negotiating the controversial plea deal.
"My relationship with the president is outstanding," Acosta told reporters on Wednesday during his press conference. "He has very publicly made clear that I've got his support. He spoke yesterday in the Oval Office; he and I have spoken."
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