On Wednesday, President Donald Trump's Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta gave a disastrous, self-serving press conference in which he made up excuses for cutting a soft plea bargain for billionaire money manager and accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, implied that victims' rights weren't as important in 2008, tried to shift the blame onto Florida state authorities, and refused to apologize to the victims or admit wrongdoing in any meaningful fashion.
But the whole episode may have been even worse than it looked.
According to New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, the White House blocked Acosta from giving a similar presser earlier this year, and lawyers warned him that he could not hold such an event on government property — but he was so desperate to control the narrative around his scandal that he defied their warning and did it anyway:
Drama before Acosta presser: WH shut him down from defending himself earlier this year -- and counsel's office warn… https://t.co/CFbnuXJAVg— Glenn Thrush (@Glenn Thrush)1562793407.0
Despite this, the White House is now leaning hard into a defense of Acosta's conduct, with Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney praising his performance at the press conference:
Mick Mulvaney told Hill reporters that Secretary Acosta did an “excellent job” at his presser. Via CBS colleague… https://t.co/6HmefMszrV— Alan He (@Alan He)1562793274.0
Acosta's deal, brokered when he was a U.S. attorney in Florida, let Epstein serve barely a year for soliciting prostitution, shut down the FBI investigation, sealed much of the information on Epstein's alleged offenses from the public, and kept the terms secret from the victims.
Acosta is facing mounting calls to resign as Labor Secretary, as federal prosecutors open a new case into Epstein that could lead to life imprisonment.