Labor Secretary Alex Acosta speaks at a press conference at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo by Alex Edelman/UPI | License Photo
July 10 (UPI) -- The House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday asking him to testify about his involvement in negotiating a deal that put billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in jail for 13 months for sex crimes.
The committee scheduled the hearing for July 23.
"The hearing will examine your actions as United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida in authorizing a non-prosecution agreement for Jeffrey Epstein, as well as the finding by a federal court that you violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by keeping this non-prosecution agreement secret from the victims of Mr. Epstein's crimes," Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote in a letter to Acosta.
"Your testimony is even more critical now that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York unsealed a new indictment earlier this week outlining a host of additional charges against Mr. Epstein, including luring dozens of teenage girls to his homes in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida, and paying them to engage in sexual activity with him."
The request came as Acosta defended the plea agreement, which critics have called too lenient, during news conference Wednesday.
Under the deal, prosecutors reduced Epstein's federal sex trafficking charges to state prostitution charges, shaving off jail time.
Epstein served 13 months in jail in Palm Beach County, during which time was allowed to work from his office during the day. He also paid restitution and registered as a sex offender.
"The goal here was straightforward," Acosta told reporters. "Put Epstein behind bars, ensure he registered as a sex offender, provide victims with a means to seek restitution and protect the public by putting them on notice that a sexual predator was within their midst.
"We believe we proceeded appropriately."
Acosta said federal prosecutors got involved in the case when it appeared as though state prosecutors didn't charge Epstein with the proper crimes. He said the case originated with the state.
Acosta said prosecutors were worried they would not be able to convict Epstein had he gone to trial. He said at the time that his and other prosecutors' actions on the case weren't as scrutinized as they are now.
"I know in 2019, looking back at 2008, things look different," he said. "Today's world treats victims very, very differently."
But Barry Krischer, former state attorney for Palm Beach County, released a statement Wednesday contradicting Acosta's explanation of how the plea deal came about. Krischer said Acosta's "recollection of this matter is completely wrong."
Krischer said that after the state charged Epstein with a felony count of solicitation of prostitution, the U.S. Attorney's Office secured a 53-page indictment on felony charges, which he said was "abandoned after secret negotiations between Mr. Epstein's lawyers and Mr. Acosta."
He said his office was not involved in the negotiations and was not aware of the "unusual confidentiality arrangement" that withheld the deal from the victims.
"If Mr. Acosta was truly concerned with the state's case and felt he had to rescue the matter, he would have moved forward with the 53-page indictment that his own office drafted," Krischer said. "Instead, Mr. Acosta brokered a secret plea deal that resulted in a non-prosecution agreement in violation of the Crime Victim's Rights Act.
"Mr. Acosta should not be allowed to rewrite history."
The case is under renewed scrutiny after police arrested Epstein on Saturday on two new charges related to sex trafficking. He's accused of paying minor girls as young as 14 years old for massages and then sex acts.
President Donald Trump encouraged Acosta to hold Wednesday's news conference to speak about the case. Acosta said Trump has confidence in him, though Democrats have called for his resignation.
"My relationship with the president is outstanding," Acosta said. "He has very publicly made clear that I've got his support. He spoke yesterday in the Oval Office, he and I have spoken."
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said he plans to donate thousands of dollars Epstein gave to his campaigns between 1992 and 1997. The senator received $7,000 through political action committees.
"While these campaign accounts closed about 20 years ago, and even then the campaign never controlled the two political action committees, Sen. Schumer is donating an equal sum to anti-sex trafficking and anti-violence against women groups," spokesman Justin Goodman said.