Trump defends Acosta amid Epstein scrutiny

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE on Tuesday defended Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by National Association of Manufacturers — Whistleblower complaint roils Washington On The Money: Senate confirms Scalia as Labor chief | Bill with B in wall funding advanced over Democrats' objections | Lawyers reach deal to delay enforcement of NY tax return subpoena Sanders calls Eugene Scalia's Labor Dept. confirmation 'obscene' 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 PelosiTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Sherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Turf war derails push on surprise medical bills | Bill would tax e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaign | .5M ad blitz backs vulnerable Dems on drug prices MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave 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 GrahamTrump: 'I wouldn't mind' a long Senate impeachment process Poll finds Graham with just 2-point lead on Democratic challenger Hill editor-in-chief calls IG report 'a game-changer' 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.