WASHINGTON -- Adding to the lengthy list of departures from President Donald Trump's Cabinet, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Friday he's stepping down amid the tumult over his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sexually abusing underage girls.
Trump, with Acosta at his side, said Friday he did not ask his secretary to leave and "I hate to see this happen." The president, who publicly faults the news media almost daily, said Acosta put the blame there, too.
Acosta "informed me this morning that he felt the constant drumbeat of press about a prosecution which took place under his watch more than 12 years ago was bad for the Administration, which he so strongly believes in, and he graciously tendered his resignation," Trump tweeted later in the day.
Trump said Patrick Pizzella, deputy secretary since April 2018, would succeed Acosta on an acting basis.
Pizzella served in the administrations of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama. A coalition of civil rights, human rights, labor and other groups opposed his nomination by Trump to the department's No. 2 slot, citing Pizzella's record on labor rights.
Acosta was the U.S. attorney in Miami when he oversaw a 2008 non-prosecution agreement that allowed Epstein to avoid federal trial but plead guilty to state charges and serve 13 months in jail. Similar charges filed against Epstein by federal prosecutors in New York this week had put Acosta's handling of the 2008 agreement with the now-jailed financier back in the spotlight.
Years ago, Epstein had counted Trump and former President Bill Clinton among his friends, but Trump said this week he was "not a fan."
Acosta said he didn't want his involvement in Epstein's case to overshadow the president's agenda and said his resignation would be effective next week.
"My point here today is we have an amazing economy, and the focus needs to be on the economy," he said.
Top Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates had demanded that Acosta resign. But Acosta had defended his actions, insisting at a news conference Wednesday that he got the toughest deal on Epstein that he could at the time.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said he should never have been appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate. "Thank God he's gone," she said
Acosta had also frustrated some conservatives who wanted him gone long before the Epstein uproar. Among their objections were his decisions to proceed with several employment discrimination lawsuits and to allow certain Obama administration holdovers to keep their jobs.
His resignation extends record turnover at the highest levels of Trump's administration, with acting secretaries at key departments, including the Pentagon and Homeland Security. Roughly two-thirds of the Cabinet has turned over by the two-and-a-half year mark of Trump's term.
Only the departments of Treasury, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Energy, Commerce and Agriculture continue with the leaders that were first confirmed.