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 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 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 John TrumpTrump opens new line of impeachment attack for Democrats Bloomberg to spend 0M on anti-Trump ads in battleground states New witness claims first-hand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes 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 AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderPelosi aide hopeful White House will support drug-pricing bill despite criticism Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Juan Williams: Republicans flee Trump 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyBooker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens 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 BluntOvernight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Alcohol industry races to save tax break by year-end deadline 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 ChaffetzElijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke MORE (R-Utah) said he would be "surprised" if Trump did not fire the Labor secretary.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising 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 CapitoHillicon Valley: Facebook to remove mentions of potential whistleblower's name | House Dems demand FCC action over leak of location data | Dem presses regulators to secure health care data Senators introduce bill to create 'parity' among broadband programs Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump 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 ThuneHillicon Valley: Twitter shares more details on political ad rules | Supreme Court takes up Google-Oracle fight | Pentagon chief defends Microsoft cloud contract House, Senate announce agreement on anti-robocall bill Senate GOP waves Trump off early motion to dismiss impeachment charges 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 FischerEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Female lawmakers make bipartisan push for more women in politics at All In Together gala Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey endorses Biden 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."