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Trump defends Acosta amid Epstein scrutiny

President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-DOJ official Rosenstein says he was not aware of subpoena targeting Democrats: report Ex-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' MORE on Tuesday defended Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaOn The Money: Trump slams relief bill, calls on Congress to increase stimulus money | Biden faces new critical deadlines after relief package | Labor rule allows restaurants to require broader tip pooling Labor rule allows restaurants to require broader tip pooling Federal litigator files complaint alleging Labor secretary abused his authority MORE, who is facing calls to resign over his role in a non-prosecution agreement with multimillionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein in a sex-crimes case.

Trump told reporters at the White House that Acosta has been a “very good” Labor secretary and that Acosta probably wished he had handled the Epstein plea deal “a different way.”

The president added that he would be looking at the case “very carefully.”

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“I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta because I’ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with the emir of Qatar.

Trump downplayed Acosta's role in Epstein's 2008 plea deal, saying, "there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him.”

Acosta at the time served as U.S. attorney in Miami.

The president also sought to distance himself from his onetime friend Epstein. The two men used to socialize together in Palm Beach, Fla.

“He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn’t a fan,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments were his most extensive yet since Epstein was charged this week by federal prosecutors in Manhattan with running a sex-trafficking ring that involved underage girls. Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The decision to pursue a fresh case against Epstein has been viewed as an implicit rebuke of Acosta, whose 2008 deal with the financier, which included limited jail time with work-release, has been criticized as too lenient.

White House officials have been closely monitoring the case in anticipation of fallout for both Trump and Acosta.

Acosta earlier Tuesday defended the non-prosecution agreement that he helped broker, as top Democrats called for him to resign from his Cabinet post, saying that "with the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator."

But Acosta acknowledged the new sex-crimes charges against Epstein could “more fully bring him to justice.”

“The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence,” Acosta wrote in a string of tweets.

“Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”

The Labor secretary made his first comments on the new charges after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNew Alzheimer's drug sparks backlash over FDA, pricing Sunday shows preview: Biden foreign policy in focus as Dem tensions boil up back home It's not just Manchin: No electoral mandate stalls Democrats' leftist agenda MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIt's not just Manchin: No electoral mandate stalls Democrats' leftist agenda DOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas MORE (D-N.Y.) and a slew of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates called on him to step down.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamProgressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema GOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Lindsey Graham: Dismissal of Wuhan lab leak theory cost Trump 2020 election MORE (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, also said he is open to conducting hearings on the controversial plea agreement.

--Updated at 1:27 p.m.