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GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges

Several Senate Republicans on Monday brushed off new criticism being aimed at 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 over his involvement in a 2008 plea deal with billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein. 

Acosta is facing intense scrutiny, including calls for him to resign, after federal prosecutors in New York unsealed new sex trafficking charges against Epstein on Monday, including alleging abuse of dozens of female minors. 

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But Senate Republicans stopped short of criticizing Acosta, much less echoing calls for him to resign, signaling that they won't publicly pressure the Labor chief to step down or for President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE to oust him. 

Instead, GOP senators noted that the 2008 plea deal was vetted as part of Acosta's 2017 hearing for his Labor secretary nomination. Under the deal, Epstein avoided a life sentence and instead spent 13 months in county jail. 

Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, told reporters that they had "looked into that thoroughly." 

"We found that the plea agreement that Secretary Acosta agreed to when he was U.S. attorney was approved by the Bush Justice Department, it was defended by the Obama Justice Department, and then by the Trump Justice Department," Alexander told reporters. 

Pressed if he thought the plea deal was a bad idea, Alexander added: "You have three different presidents’ Justice Departments saying that the plea agreement was consistent with Department of Justice policy." 

Asked if Acosta should resign over the Epstein scandal, Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOn The Money: Treasury announces efforts to help people get stimulus payments | Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury | Judge sets ground rules for release of Trump taxes Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury Finance Committee vote on Yellen nomination scheduled for Friday MORE (R-Iowa) noted that oversight of the plea deal and Acosta's role wasn't within his committee's jurisdiction. 

"This was up about three months ago, and then all of the sudden it died down, so I don't know how big of a deal it is," Grassley said before ditching reporters by cutting into the Senate kitchens. 

Grassley, asked again later Monday evening about potential fallout for Acosta, added that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility had opened up an investigation into the plea deal and "we ought to wait and see what they come up with." 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump, allies raise pressure on Senate GOP ahead of impeachment This week: Senate stuck in limbo Skepticism reigns as Biden, McConnell begin new era MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, demurred when asked if Acosta should resign, suggesting he was satisfied with the Senate's previous review of the plea deal. 

"You know I've looked at that, it was early in the application of the new protections for parties that were victims, and it's my view that the state prosecutors were appropriate prosecutors to deal with that but we'll see. If there's more that comes out, I'll be glad to look at it," Blunt said. 

"At this point, I think it's been looked at repeatedly, and I think everybody has reached the same conclusion," Blunt added. 

Acosta was confirmed in a 60-38 vote for the Labor Department post, including winning the support of nine Democratic senators. He's defended the 2008 plea deal, which took place when he was the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida, arguing that it ensured Epstein serve jail time, register as a sex offender and pay damages to victims. 

"At the end of day, Mr. Epstein went to jail. Epstein was incarcerated. He registered as a sex offender,” Acosta told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee last year. 

But the plea deal is under fresh scrutiny in the wake of Monday's indictment, sparking new questions about Acosta's future in the Trump administration, where multiple Cabinet officials have been ousted amid scandal. 

Former Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah) said he would be "surprised" if Trump did not fire the Labor secretary.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineHawley files ethics counter-complaint against seven Democratic senators Lawmakers move to oust extremists from military Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 MORE (D-Va.), a member of the HELP Committee who previously asked Acosta about the plea deal, said in a tweet on Monday that the Trump official "must go." 

Other GOP senators indicated as they returned to Washington on Monday after the weeklong July 4 recess that they hadn't heard about the new indictments against Epstein, but appeared skeptical that they offered new information on the plea deal with Acosta. 

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoModerates vow to 'be a force' under Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE (W.Va.), a member of GOP leadership, said Monday that she talked to Acosta "several months ago about this and so I'm satisfied." 

Asked about the new charges against Epstein, Capito should she hadn't seen them, but "at this point I'm satisfied." 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump, allies raise pressure on Senate GOP ahead of impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, initially declined to comment until he found out more information, before adding that "all that stuff I think was addressed at the time, so unless there's new information."  

Asked if Acosta should resign after she stopped to take a photo of an out-of-order clock near the Senate floor, Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerBiden pick for Pentagon cruises through confirmation hearing Push for ,000 stimulus checks hits Senate buzzsaw Overnight Energy: Biden makes historic pick with Haaland for Interior | Biden set to tap North Carolina official to lead EPA | Gina McCarthy forges new path as White House climate lead MORE (Neb.), a member of GOP leadership, sidestepped. 

"I don't know. Why do you people ask this stuff?" she asked. "Don't you realize that we're working on tough legislation."