McConnell: Acosta's future is up to Trump

McConnell: Acosta's future is up to Trump
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Harris, Nadler introduce bill to decriminalize marijuana MORE (R-Ky.) avoided weighing in on whether Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Trump taps Scalia's son as Labor secretary pick The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE should resign over a 2008 plea deal involving financier Jeffrey Epstein, saying his fate is up to President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE.

McConnell, asked if Acosta should step down, called the allegations against Epstein "horrendous," but avoided either defending or criticizing Acosta, who agreed to a plea deal in 2008 that allowed Epstein to avoid a life sentence.

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"There's no question that the accusations against Epstein are horrendous and I think it's good news that they're being pursued further. As to Secretary Acosta's continued service, he serves at the pleasure of the president and I'm inclined to defer the president to make that decision," McConnell said.

McConnell's comments come as Acosta is under growing fire, including from 2020 Democrats calling on him to resign, after federal prosecutors unsealed new sex trafficking charges against Epstein on Monday, alleging he abused dozens of girls. He has denied all charges.

The charges are being contrasted with a 2008 deal Acosta made when he was a U.S. attorney that allowed Epstein to serve 13 months in “custody with work release."

Republicans have largely stood by Acosta, who was confirmed by the Senate for the Labor Department spot in 2017, arguing that they reviewed the plea deal during his confirmation hearing.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP rattled by Trump rally GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that Republicans haven't been raising too many concerns about Acosta privately.

"It really hasn't come up much. … If there's new information now and a stronger case and he can be more fully prosecuted, I think everybody is amenable to that. But I just don't think at this point there's been a lot of conversation among our members about it beyond what they're reading in the reports," Thune told reporters.