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 AcostaFlorida sheriff ends work release program criticized over Jeffery Epstein The 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 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 TrumpComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Congress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff 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 AlexanderThe Trump administration's harmful and immoral attack on children Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in 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 GrassleyErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law 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 BluntSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' 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 KaineThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students 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 CapitoTrump hammers Manchin over impeachment vote Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle Democrat Richard Ojeda announces Senate bid after dropping out of presidential race 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 ThuneMcConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran 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 FischerLoeffler works to gain traction with conservatives amid Collins primary bid Bolton upends Trump impeachment trial  The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment unknowns await returning lawmakers 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."