Labor Secretary Alex Acosta defends Epstein plea deal amid calls for his resignation

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday defended his handling of a 2008 sex trafficking case involving wealthy financier and accused child predator Jeffrey Epstein amid growing calls for his resignation.

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"We believe that we proceeded appropriately, based on the evidence," said Acosta, who was serving in 2008 as the U.S. attorney in Florida when Epstein cut a secret deal to avoid significant jail time and federal prosecution after he was accused of molesting teenage girls.

Federal prosecutors in New York on Monday unveiled new charges of sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy against Epstein, 66. He is accused of molesting dozens of teenage girls in Florida and New York between at least 2002 and 2005.

Acosta told reporters gathered Wednesday at the Labor Department headquarters that he welcomed the new charges and called Epstein "a very bad man ...(who) needs to be put away."

"He should be prosecuted in any state in which he committed a crime," Acosta said. "I absolutely welcome the New York prosecution. It is absolutely the right thing to do."

Top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have called for Acosta's resignation since Monday; however, President Donald Trump has indicated he does not plan to ask his labor secretary to step down.

Trump told reporters Tuesday that his administration would be looking "very carefully" at how Acosta handled the 2008 case. However, he emphasized that "if you go back and look at everybody else's decisions – whether it's a U.S. attorney or an assistant U.S. attorney or a judge – you go back 12 or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago, and look at their past decisions, I would think you'd probably find that they would wish they maybe did it a different way."

Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, also defended Acosta's conduct, telling reporters, "The reality is that the defense attorneys in that case actually tried to get Alex removed because they thought he was such an aggressive prosecutor in this case."

"As you heard Alex say yesterday, we welcome the fact that there is additional evidence that can be prosecuted," Short said. "The crimes are atrocities and certainly should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Epstein pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy. Prosecutors said he could face as many as 45 years in prison if he's convicted of the charges.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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