WASHINGTON — President Trump said Friday that R. Alexander Acosta, his embattled secretary of labor, will resign following controversy over his handling of a sex crimes case involving the financier Jeffrey E. Epstein when Mr. Acosta was a federal prosecutor in Florida.
Mr. Trump said Mr. Acosta had called him on Friday morning and informed him of his decision to step down. The two men stood side by side on the South Lawn of the White House and spoke to reporters before the president left for travel to Milwaukee and Cleveland.
Mr. Acosta’s resignation brings to four the number of cabinet agencies led by acting secretaries. The department’s deputy secretary, Patrick Pizzella, would assume the role of acting secretary, Mr. Trump said.
“This was him, not me,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Mr. Acosta has been a “great, great secretary” and a “tremendous talent” who is “a Hispanic man. He went to Harvard, a great student.” The resignation came two days after Mr. Acosta convened a news conference to defend his actions in the Epstein case in 2008 when Mr. Acosta was the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan brought new charges against Mr. Epstein this week, accusing him of child sex trafficking and reviving concerns about the federal government’s handling of accusations against Mr. Epstein more than a decade ago. The new charges also returned attention to Mr. Trump’s previous relationship with Mr. Epstein, whom he described as “a terrific guy” in 2002, and provided a new line of attack for some Democratic presidential candidates.
On Thursday, congressional Democrats demanded a briefing from the Justice Department about a 2008 agreement by Mr. Acosta’s office not to prosecute Mr. Epstein, which included a promise to Mr. Epstein’s defense team that federal prosecutors would not notify his victims of the arrangement, a practice that was not only unusual but against the law. The secrecy around the negotiations raised questions why Mr. Epstein — whom Mr. Trump recently described as a “fixture” in Palm Beach, Fla., where the president’s Mar-a-Lago club is located — received such a lenient punishment.
When federal agents raided Mr. Epstein’s New York mansion in recent days, they found lewd photographs of girls. Prosecutors accused him and his employees of running a sex-trafficking scheme to bring dozens of girls — some as young as 14 — to his homes in New York and Palm Beach between 2002 and 2005. If convicted, he could face up to 45 years in prison.
Some of the women who have accused Mr. Epstein of sex crimes have been speaking publicly for the first time in recent days. “I’m ecstatic,” said Spencer Kuvin, a Florida-based lawyer who has been representing three of Epstein’s accusers. “This is one step in the right direction.”
Mr. Trump on Friday repeated that he cut ties with Mr. Epstein years ago after a falling-out.
“I haven’t spoken to him in 15 years or more. I wasn’t a big fan of Jeffrey Epstein, that I can tell you,” Mr. Trump said.
Though Mr. Trump praised Mr. Acosta’s accomplishments, citing strong employment numbers, many in the business community, normally an ally of Republican-appointed labor secretaries, had grown weary of Mr. Acosta. Employer groups and management-side lawyers complained that he had moved too slowly to tilt overtime pay and employer liability policies in a more laissez-faire direction.