U.S. President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta (R) after delivering remarks to members of the news media, before departing the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. on 12 July 2019. (EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS)
WASHINGTON, July 12 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta on Friday announced his resignation after coming under fire for his past handling of a plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Acosta appeared alongside President Donald Trump at the White House as he announced his resignation. Trump said Acosta relayed his decision in a phone call Friday morning.
"It's his decision," Trump said, adding that Acosta had done "a very good job."
U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019. (New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services/Handout via REUTERS)
In a written letter released on social media, Acosta said he offered to resign to "avoid distractions" for the Trump administration, adding that he planned to leave office in one week's time.
Patrick Pizzella, currently deputy secretary of labor, will become acting secretary of the department, according to Trump.
Acosta, who assumed the position in April 2017, entered the spotlight recently after Epstein was arrested last week on charges of sex-trafficking of underage girls involving allegations dating to the early 2000s. Acosta, a former federal prosecutor in South Florida, was reported to have agreed to a plea deal with Epstein in 2008 that allowed Epstein to avoid federal prosecution.
Earlier this week both Acosta and Trump sought to defend the plea deal. Acosta said in a news conference Wednesday that while he supported New York prosecutors to investigate Epstein, he was unfairly blamed for the 2008 plea deal.
"We believe that we proceeded appropriately," Acosta said at the conference, "Times have changed, and coverage of this case has certainly changed."