White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that the administration is "looking into" Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta's role in securing a lenient plea deal for politically connected sex offender Jeffrey Epstein that a judge said was illegally concealed from his victims.
"My understanding is it is a very complicated case, certainly something we're looking into," Sanders told reporters a day after a federal judge in Florida ruled that prosecutors, led by then-Miami U.S. Attorney Acosta, had broken the law by signing a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein without notifying dozens of his sex abuse victims.
Sanders said she believed prosecutors "made the best possible decision and deal they could have gotten at the time, but again, that's something we're looking into." Asked if President Donald Trump still had confidence in Acosta, Sanders said, "We're looking into the matter but I'm not aware of any changes."
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Asked directly by reporters later in the day if he had any "concerns" about Acosta, Trump said, "I don't know much about it. He's done a great job as labor secretary. That seems like a long time ago."
Epstein, 66, reached the non-prosecution deal in 2008 with Acosta's office to halt a federal sex abuse investigation involving dozens of teenage girls in return for him pleading guilty to state charges involving a single victim, paying financial settlements to other victims and registering as a sex offender.
The wealthy financier, who'd been friends with the likes of Trump and President Bill Clinton, wound up serving 13 months in a Palm Beach jail, where he was allowed to leave almost daily through a work-release program and to have his own private security detail. He could have faced up to life behind bars had he been convicted of the charges in the shelved federal complaint.
Acosta was actively involved in the negotiations, according to documents that were introduced into evidence in a lawsuit by two victims who said their rights were violated. That included an email between Acosta and one of Epstein's lawyers, former Whitewater special prosecutor Ken Starr, in which he agreed to temporarily hold off on sending out victim notification letters at Starr's request.
Acosta downplayed his office's actions at his Senate confirmation hearing last year. “There was a time when keeping something confidential was less of an issue, but the public expectation today is that things be very public,” he testified.
He's defended his handling of the case in the past, as well.
“The bottom line is this: Mr. Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire, served time in jail and is now a registered sex offender. He has been required to pay his victims restitution, though restitution clearly cannot compensate for the crime. And we know much more today about his crimes because the victims have come forward to speak out,” he said in a statement to the Daily Beast in 2011.
After Judge Kenneth Marra's finding in the victims' case that Acosta's office had violated the notification law, a Department of Labor spokesperson released a statement Thursday defending Acosta's actions.
Decisions made by Acosta's office "were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures. This matter remains in litigation and, thus, for any further comment we refer you to the Department of Justice," the statement said.
The Justice Department launched an investigation into how prosecutors handled the case earlier this month.