White House says it's 'looking into' Jeffrey Epstein case

Image: Labor Secretary Alex Acosta testifies before the House Ways and Mean
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee in Washington on April 17, 2018. Copyright Win McNamee Getty Images file
Copyright Win McNamee Getty Images file
By Dareh Gregorian with NBC News Politics
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Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says White House "looking into" Labor Secretary Alex Acosta's role in getting a cushy deal for sex offender Jeffrey Epstein


White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that the administration is "looking into" Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta's role in securing a lenient plea deal for politically connected sex offender Jeffrey Epstein that a judge said was illegally concealed from his dozens of victims.

"My understanding is it is a very complicated case, certainly something we're looking into," Sanders told reporters a day after a federal judge in Florida ruled that prosecutors, led by Acosta, had broken the law by signing a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein without notifying his sex abuse victims.

Sanders said she believed prosecutors "made the best possible decision and deal they could have gotten at the time, but again, that's something we're looking into." Asked if President Donald Trump still had confidence in Acosta, Sanders said, "We're looking into the matter but I'm not aware of any changes."

Epstein, 66, reached a nonprosecution deal in 2008 with then-Miami U.S. Attorney Acosta's office to halt a federal sex abuse investigation involving dozens of teenage girls in return for him pleading guilty to state charges involving a single victim, paying financial settlements to other victims and becoming a registered sex offender.

The wealthy financier, who'd been friends with the likes of Trump and Bill Clinton, wound up serving 13 months in a Palm Beach jail, where he was allowed to leave almost daily through a work-release program and to have his own private security detail. Had he been convicted of the charges in the shelved federal complaint, he could have faced up to life behind bars.

Acosta was actively involved in the negotiations, according to documents that were introduced into evidence in a lawsuit by two victims who said their rights were violated. That included an email between Acosta and one of Epstein's lawyers, former Whitewater special prosecutor Ken Starr, where he agreed to temporarily hold off on sending out victim notification letters at Starr's request.

Acosta downplayed his office's actions at his Senate confirmation hearing last year, testifying "There was a time when keeping something confidential was less of an issue, but the public expectation today is that things be very public."

He's defended his handling of the case in the past, as well.

"The bottom line is this: Mr. Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire, served time in jail and is now a registered sex offender. He has been required to pay his victims restitution, though restitution clearly cannot compensate for the crime. And we know much more today about his crimes because the victims have come forward to speak out," he said in a statement to the Daily Beast in 2011.

After Judge Kenneth Marra's finding in the victims' case that Acosta's office had violated the notification law, a Department of Labor spokesperson released a statement Thursday defending his actions.

Decisions made by Acosta's office "were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures. This matter remains in litigation and, thus, for any further comment we refer you to the Department of Justice," the statement said.

The Justice Department launched an investigation into how prosecutors handled the case earlier this month.

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