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 AcostaTrump officially nominates Eugene Scalia as Labor secretary pick Our farmers need a better labor program Three more Epstein accusers sue estate 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report 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 AlexanderHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation 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 GrassleyGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' Barr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks 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 BluntGOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan The Hill's Morning Report - Can Trump save GOP in North Carolina special election? 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 ChaffetzHouse 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 GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges MORE (R-Utah) said he would be "surprised" if Trump did not fire the Labor secretary.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSen. Kaine: No reason for US to 'engage in military action to protect Saudi oil' Bolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine 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 CapitoThis week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure America is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction 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: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' Trump administration floats background check proposal to Senate GOP 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 FischerStatue of Chief Standing Bear to be unveiled in Capitol The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow 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."