Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta is expected to face questions at his Senate confirmation hearing about an unusual plea deal he oversaw for a billionaire sex offender while U.S. attorney in Miami.
Acosta has won confirmation for federal posts three times previously, but he has never faced scrutiny on Capitol Hill for his time as U.S. attorney.
Critics, including attorneys for some underage victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein, say the plea agreement was a “sweetheart deal” made possible only by Epstein’s wealth, connections and high-powered lawyers. Acosta has defended his decisions as the best outcome given evidence available at the time.
“Some may feel that the prosecution should have been tougher. Evidence that has come to light since 2007 may encourage that view,” Acosta wrote in a March 2011 letter to media outlets after leaving the U.S. attorney’s office. “Had these additional statements and evidence been known, the outcome may have been different. But they were not known to us at the time.”
Senate aides from both parties expect Democrats to raise the case during Acosta’s confirmation hearing Wednesday as an example of him not speaking up for less-powerful people. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Sen. Patty Murray, the leading Democrat on the committee, said in a statement she met with Acosta on Thursday and is concerned about whether he would “stand up to political pressure” and advocate for workers as labor secretary. Unlike Trump’s original choice for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, Acosta is expected to win confirmation.
The Florida International University law school dean was nominated after Puzder, a fast-food executive, withdrew over his hiring of an undocumented immigrant housekeeper and other issues.
Acosta, 48, has previously won Senate confirmation as Miami U.S. attorney, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and the National Labor Relations