STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump's labor secretary, Alex Acosta, has resigned. His departure punctuates the end of a week that began with dramatic news from Acosta's past. Federal prosecutors detailed sex crimes charges against the wealthy investor Jeffrey Epstein, and the accusations called attention to a plea deal that Epstein had made with Acosta many years ago.
NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe is covering this story. Good morning.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: How has the week evolved, from Secretary Acosta's point of view?
RASCOE: As you said, there was - these charges were brought against Jeffrey Epstein on Monday and by federal prosecutors in New York and - basically charging that Epstein had been involved in sex trafficking and sexually abusing young girls. And so this obviously brought a lot of attention on to Secretary Acosta because Secretary Acosta had made this plea deal, basically, or made a deal with Epstein years ago that allowed Epstein to avoid federal charges and to plead to lesser state charges for sexually abusing girls.
And so, at first, it seemed like the White House was standing by Acosta. Trump said that he was doing a great job as labor secretary and he said that he felt sorry for Acosta. The deal happened years ago. He wasn't - and that Acosta wasn't the only one involved. And then - but clearly, there was still a firestorm. You had Democrats calling for Acosta to step down.
And then on Wednesday, you had Acosta hold this press conference. And it was a long press conference where he tried to explain and defend his position and why he had made the decision that he had made back in the 2007, 2008 range - in that range. And so he had this press conference. And usually, with those sorts of things, that's kind of make or break for this administration.
How did it go? Well, today he stepped down. And so it seems like - we don't know. He did say that he called it - that Acosta made the decision and that Trump said it was not his decision. And he was still praising Acosta today, saying that he was a great labor secretary - not a good one, but a great one. But it seemed like Acosta decided that this was not going to work for him to stay in that position.
INSKEEP: I guess we have to dwell on a couple of Acosta denials. It was presumed when he gave that press conference that he was performing for an audience of one - the guy who would decide whether he would keep his job. Acosta made a point during the press conference, if I'm not mistaken, of saying, that was not the case. I'm not trying to send a message to the president. I'm just trying to give you the facts.
And of course, Acosta says the president wasn't the decider here. But I mean, he's the president, right? I mean, we know. If the president really wanted him to stay, he might well have stayed.
RASCOE: Well, the president could've said, I don't accept your resignation, right? You could do that if you are president. But in this case, it seemed like what Acosta was trying to say at that press conference is that it was not that he made the decision or - that he approved this deal with Epstein because he felt like it was the best deal that they could get at that time. He put a lot on the state government. He said that Florida - that this started as a state case and that Florida prosecutors were basically going to let Epstein walk without jail time and that federal prosecutors stepped in to stop that and that because they could secure a guilty plea - that that was more - that would require Epstein to have some jail time and to register as a sex offender - that it was more important to do that than to roll the dice and hold a trial.
And he also talked about this idea that the victims could be victim shamed and that it was a different time back then. This was his defense of his actions and of the deal.
INSKEEP: His defense - although I have to note - I mean, as it's been pointed out over the last several days, all of these crimes for which Epstein has been charged in the last few days date from before that plea deal. There is no sign that Acosta's office went to try to find all these other victims to see if there were more victims before going through with the plea deal.
RASCOE: And those are the questions that Acosta couldn't really answer. Why didn't they go further? Why didn't they try to do more investigating so that they could bring a strong case against Epstein at that time?
INSKEEP: OK. Ayesha, thanks for the update. I really appreciate it.
RASCOE: Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR's White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe on this day that we're learning that Alex Acosta, labor secretary, has resigned. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.