Conway deflects on Trump’s confidence in Acosta, top Dems call on him to resign over Epstein case
Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — With growing calls from top Democrats for Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to resign over his role in negotiating a plea deal for accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday would not say whether President Donald Trump still has confidence in him.
“Why are you talking about Alex Acosta and not Jeffrey Epstein?” Conway said during an on-camera gaggle with reporters, when asked repeatedly about whether the president has confidence in his Labor secretary. “Jeffrey Epstein is the one raping young girls.”
Epstein was arrested over the weekend on federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy in New York. Back in 2007, Acosta was U.S. Attorney in Florida and negotiated a plea deal that resulted in Epstein serving just 13 months of an 18 month sentence on state charges in county jail and avoiding federal charges for an allegedly broad pattern of similar conduct.
Not long after Conway spoke, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, said Acosta must step down.
“I am calling on Secretary Acosta to resign. It is now impossible for anyone to have confidence in Secretary Acosta’s ability to lead the Department of Labor. If he refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him,” Schumer said. “This is not acceptable. We cannot have as one of the leading appointed officials in America someone who has done this. Plain and simple.”
About noon, Acosta tweeted he supports the New York case against Epstein as “an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.
— Secretary Acosta (@SecretaryAcosta) July 9, 2019
Conway said she spoke to the president Tuesday morning and that he told her he doesn’t believe he’s been in touch with Epstein in more than a decade but that he finds the charges against him “unconscionable.”
“The president told me this morning he doesn’t think he’s talked to him or seen him in 10 or 15 years and like everyone else, sees these charges, or the description of these charges, as unconscionable, and obviously criminal, disgusting,” Conway said.
While Conway wouldn’t offer a direct answer to questions about the president’s confidence in Acosta, she did praise the performance of the economy under his leadership at the Department of Labor.
“The president met Secretary Acosta two-and-half years ago when he applied for the job, he was happy to give him the job at Department of Labor, and since then, through any number of reasons, beginning with the president, we’ve got a big jobs boom,” Conway said.
Conway also noted that Acosta was questioned during his confirmation hearing about the previous plea deal and “answered questions under oath” but added that the president didn’t know Acosta at the time of the previous case and “didn’t follow the case very closely.”
Asked specifically about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s earlier call for Acosta to resign, Conway criticized Pelosi for putting the focus on Acosta and said the attention should be on Epstein instead.
“It’s classic her … to not focus on the perpetrator at hand, and instead focus on a member of the Trump administration,” Conway said.
Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had said in March that the administration was reviewing Acosta’s role in the previous plea deal for Epstein.
“That’s currently under review. Because of that, I can’t get into a lot of specifics, but we’re certainly looking at it,” Sanders said in March.
Asked about the status of that review, Conway did not offer a straight answer and said the focus should be on the charges in New York and not what happened in Florida.
Schumer demanded that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility make the review public. “This review cannot be kept in the dark, particularly given the new revelations,” he said, adding that Congress should hold hearings.
While the president hasn’t commented directly since Epstein’s arrest over the weekend, he was asked back in February if he had any concerns about Acosta’s involvement in Epstein’s case and said that the time that he didn’t know much about it but that it was a “long time ago.
“I really don’t know too much about it. I know he’s done a great job as Labor secretary. And that seems like a long time ago. But I know he’s been a fantastic Labor secretary. That’s all I can really tell you about. That’s all I know about,” Trump said in February.
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