(CN) — On the heels of a press conference where he defended his prosecution of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Alexander Acosta stepped down Friday as President Trump’s secretary of labor.
Trump told reporters outside the White House this morning that Acosta’s departure was voluntary.
“I just want to let you know, this is him, not me because I am with him,” Trump said before departing Washington for a weekend of 2020 election campaigning. “The fact is, he has been a fantastic secretary of labor.”
Standing next to the president, Acosta described his exit as the “right thing to do.”
“It would be selfish for me to stay in this position and continue talking about a case that is 12 years old rather than the amazing economy that we have right now,” he said.
Various news reports paint a different picture: one of a White House dissatisfied with Acosta, not for any reason related to Epstein but for the labor secretary’s supposed resistance to a hard, deregulatory agenda.
Those simmering resentments, the reports suggest, came to a head as the revival of the Epstein scandal put Acosta’s role overseeing an agency that monitors human trafficking under public scrutiny.
The Miami Herald’s watershed investigation late last year laid bare the secret plea deal that he struck with the politically powerful financier in 2008.
As the top federal prosecutor in Florida’s Southern District at the time, Acosta dropped a 53-page indictment for the serial sexual abuse of underage girls, instead allowing Epstein to plead to two state-level charges of soliciting prostitution. The deal permitted Epstein to serve out a 13-month sentence in a county jail, with frequent trips to the outside world on a work-release program.
Acosta withheld the terms of the deal from more than 30 victims and shielded Epstein’s co-conspirators from prosecution in what the agreement described as a “global” settlement.
“We believe that we proceeded appropriately,” Acosta insisted on Wednesday, casting the decision as obtaining the sure result of Epstein’s conviction instead of “rolling the dice” at trial.
Acosta’s unrepentant performance at the press conference sharply contradicted his previous reflections about why he inked that sweetheart deal, but ultimately could not save his job.
“What followed was a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors,” Acosta wrote in a 2011 letter unearthed years later by the Daily Beast. “I use the word assault intentionally, as the defense was more aggressive than any which I, or the prosecutors in my office, had previously encountered.”
Federal prosecutors brought new sex-trafficking charges against Epstein this week and are expected to file a motion today opposing a proposed bail package that would allow him to await trial in his $77 million Upper East Side mansion.
The Department of Labor did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment on the resignation letter in which Acosta told Trump he would leave his post one week from today.
“A cabinet position is a temporary trust,” Acosta wrote. “I must set aside a part of me that wants to continue my service with the thousands of talented professionals at the Department of Labor.”