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Labor Secretary Alex Acosta Resigns Over Epstein Plea Deal

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  • Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced his resignation amid criticism over a controversial plea deal he brokered in 2008 that significantly reduced the sentence of financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of committing sex crimes.
  • The move was announced in a joint press conference Friday, with President Donald Trump applauding Acosta as “a fantastic secretary of labor.”
  • The renewed criticism for Acosta came after federal prosecutors in New York filed charges against Epstein on June 6, and accused him of abusing dozens of underage girls.
  • Deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella will take over as acting secretary, though human rights groups have expressed concern over his previous efforts to lobby against worker protections in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Acosta Steps Down

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned Friday after renewed criticism of a 2008 plea deal he struck in a high profile sex crimes case against prominent financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Acosta, who was the U.S. Attorney for Miami at the time of the Epstein case, came under fire this week after federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy for his alleged abuse of dozens of underage girls.

Epstein had previously been charged in a parallel case in Miami and was facing a life sentence. 

However, Acosta, in his capacity as the lead prosecutor, negotiated a secret last-minute plea deal with Epstein’s lawyers that allowed him to plead guilty to lesser offenses and receive a sentence of 13 months in jail.

The new charges against Epstein reignited backlash over Acosta’s handling of the previous case, prompting calls for Acosta to step down.

“As I look forward, I do not think it is right and fair for this administration’s labor department to have Epstein as the focus rather than the incredibly economy we have today,” Acosta said speaking alongside President Donald Trump in front of the White House Friday morning.

“I called the president this morning, I told him the right thing was to step aside,” he continued. “Cabinet positions are temporary trusts. It would be selfish to stay in this position and continue talking about a case that’s 12 years old, rather than the amazing economy we have right now.”

Trump for his part applauded Acosta’s work as labor secretary.

“He’s done a fantastic job. He’s a friend of everybody in the administration,” Trump said. “He made a deal that people were happy with, and then 12 years later they’re not happy with it. You’ll have to figure all of that out. But the fact is, he has been a fantastic secretary of labor.”

Previous Statements

Acosta’s resignation comes after he held a nearly hour-long news conference on Wednesday, where he defended his decision to reach the plea deal and argued it was the best his office could do under the circumstances.

Acosta argued that Epstein that would not have faced jail-time under charges that state authorities were going bring, but the prosecutor’s office intervened and pressed for a tougher sentence.

“We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” he said. “He needed to go to jail.”

When asked by reporters if he would make the same deal today, Acosta answered, “We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight and we live in a very different world. Today’s world treats victims very, very differently. Today’s world does not allow some of the victim-shaming that could have taken place at trial.”

Reporters asked Acosta multiple times if he would apologize to the victims, Acosta refused.

Reporters also pressed Acosta about a February decision by a federal judge who said the plea deal Acosta made violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act because he did not inform Epstein’s victims that he had made the agreement until after it was approved by a judge.

Acosta again defended that decision, arguing that his office did not inform the victims because he was not sure if Epstein would accept the agreement, which included a clause that would allow the victims to seek restitution. 

Acosta said that if Epstein had gone to trial rather than taking the deal, his defense lawyers could have undermined victim testimonies by arguing that they were only doing it for the money.

Acosta Rebuked

Barry Krischer, who served as Palm Beach state attorney at the time of the Epstein case, rebuked Acosta’s conference Wednesday and accused him of trying to “rewrite history” by putting the blame on state authorities.

“I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong,” Krischer said, “No matter how my office resolved the state charges, the U.S. attorney’s office always had the ability to file its own federal charges.”

“If Mr. Acosta was truly concerned with the state’s case and felt he had to rescue the matter, he would have moved forward with the 53-page indictment that his own office drafted,” he continued.

Congressional leaders have called for further investigation into Acosta’s role in the plea deal. Before Acosta announced his resignation, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings requested that he testify before the committee about the agreement.

Cummings, along with other House Democrats, also sent a letter to the Justice Department to request a briefing about their internal investigations.

“There are significant concerns with Secretary Acosta’s actions in approving an extremely favorable deal for an alleged sexual predator while concealing the deal from the victims of Mr. Epstein’s crimes, which a judge found violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

It is unclear if they will move forward with the hearing.

Controversy Around Deputy Labor Secretary

Acosta will step officially step down in seven days, and Deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella will take over as acting secretary.

However, Pizzella’s ascension is already provoking controversy. Civil rights groups have expressed concern about his work with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the late 1990s and early 2000s to lobby against protections for workers in the Northern Mariana Islands.

In 2017, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote a letter to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, urging senators to oppose Pizzella’s nomination as deputy secretary of labor over the matter.

“Mr. Pizzella worked closely with Jack Abramoff to lobby for policies on the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands that essentially allowed for unchecked slave labor to be performed with the imprimatur of the ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ label on goods and clothing,” the letter said.

In 2006, Abramoff was sentenced to six years in prison for fraud-related charges.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Associated Press)

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Trump Rolls Back California Emissions Standards in Move That Could Ultimately Weaken Federal Standards

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  • The Trump administration revoked a waiver that allows California to set its own car emissions standards, the tightest regulations in the country. 
  • The move is part of Trump’s plan to roll back federal emissions standards set by President Barack Obama.
  • While Trump says a rollback will lead to safer and more fuel-efficient cars, analysts warn it could lead to increased fuel use, increased carbon emissions, higher vehicle costs, and lower vehicle sales.

Why is Trump Rolling Back Standards?

The Trump administration revoked a waiver from the federal government on Thursday that allows the state of California to enact stricter car emissions standards.

The move is part of Trump’s plan to roll back federal emissions standards set by President Barack Obama during his first term. 

In a series of tweets announcing the revocation on Wednesday, Trump argued that a rollback of regulations would lead to safer and less expensive cars as well as “little difference” in emissions. 

“The Trump Administration is revoking California’s Federal Waiver on emissions in order to produce far less expensive cars for the consumer, while at the same time making the cars substantially SAFER,” the president tweeted. “This will lead to more production because of this pricing and safety advantage, and also due to the fact that older, highly polluting cars, will be replaced by new, extremely environmentally friendly cars.”

“There will be very little difference in emissions between the California Standard and the new U.S. Standard,” Trump continued, “but the cars will be far safer and much less expensive. Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”

On the claims of increased safety, the Trump administration says ditching Obama-era standards could prevent almost 12,700 car-related deaths over the next 13 years. However, an analysis by the Obama White House claimed the tighter standards would lead to 100 fewer deaths. 

An analysis by Consumer Reports predicted President Trump’s plan could lead to increased fuel costs, higher vehicle costs, and fewer vehicle sales. The nonprofit organization also said rollbacks could harm but “certainly would not improve” highway safety. 

Also according to Consumer Reports, a federal rollback could increase the country’s oil consumption by 320 billion gallons between 2021 and 2035 and would increase emissions by three gigatonnes. 

Despite urging automakers to “seize” on the opportunity, four automakers—Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW—struck a deal with California in July to continue manufacturing cars under stricter standards even if Trump abolished those rules. That then led the Justice Department to investigate the companies for potentially violating antitrust laws. 

How Will This Affect the Country’s Emission Standards?

The longstanding series of waivers to California began with the Clean Air Act of 1970. Since then, 13 other states have adopted California’s strict emissions standards, with the state influencing national—and, at times, international—policy. 

Tailpipe emissions are the leading form of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States, comprising about 20% of the country’s pollution. 

California state officials have said they will block the move, with attorney general Xavier Becerra saying he will sue the Trump Administration, which he claims is violating California’s state rights. 

Some legal experts have begun analyzing how either scenario could play out, with one being that if Trump’s move was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court, it could block states from setting standards for tailpipe pollution. Alternatively, if the Court were to strike it down, that could allow states to set their own emissions standards. Under the second situation, it is likely some states would set tougher laws than others, which could impact how automakers build cars.

Some, including head of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler, claimed California unfairly dictated standards for the nation. 

“The California emissions regulations would impact Americans in other states who have no ability to vote those state legislators out of office,” FreedomWorks, a libertarian advocacy group, said in a statement. “It is regulation without representation at its worst.”

Additionally, Trump plans to reduce a federal Obama-era goal that would require cars to operate at an average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025 down to an average of 37 miles per gallon. The Obama standard is expected to eliminate six billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution, but the Trump Administration has argued that the regulations are unattainable. 

San Francisco Homelessness Violation

In addition to the revocation announcement, Trump also said Wednesday he will be issuing the city of San Francisco an environmental violation because of the city’s homeless population. 

In his reasoning, Trump argued that needles and other waste are turning up on the ocean.

“They’re in serious violation,” he said on Air Force One. “They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed called the remarks “ridiculous” and said the city’s sewage is filtered at wastewater treatment plants instead of draining into the ocean.

As far as the violation goes, it is unclear at this time what that will look like. 

See what others are saying: (The Los Angeles Times) (CBS) (WIRED)

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Ethan Lindenberger “Frustrated” After Being Placed Among Photos of “Dead” Children at Anti-vax Vigil

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  • California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two new vaccination bills on Sept. 9, primarily aimed at reducing the number of childhood medical exemptions issued by the state.
  • Protests at the Capitol temporarily shut down the legislature as the bills were being passed, but protests ramped up later in the week when a woman threw a menstrual cup with what appeared to be blood in it onto senators.
  • Another protest led by an anti-vax group included a vigil for children they claimed had either been harmed or died from vaccines—including 18-year-old Ethan Lindenberger, who garnered national attention after vaccinating himself against his parents’ wishes.

Lindenberger Photo At Anti-vax Vigil

Pro-vaccine advocate Ethan Lindenberger expressed frustration after an anti-vax group displayed his photo among others of children they claimed were either dead or harmed by vaccines.

The vigil followed the passage of two bills aimed at making it harder for parents to get medical exemptions for their children’s vaccinations in California last week.

Lindenberger, who attracted national attention when he spoke to the U.S. Senate after vaccinating himself against his mother’s wishes, said he was at the Global Vaccination Summit in Belgium when he learned his photo was included in the vigil and he immediately thought it was a joke. 

“I was just really confused cause I’m looking through this photo that this anti-vaxxer’s sharing, and they’re totally like, ‘Look at all these dead people,’ and I’m there,” Lindenberger said to Rogue Rocket. “Part of me is like, ‘This is wild,’ so I went through their history to see if they were trolls. Nope, totally legitimate person. And when I shared it with some of my Facebook friends, they were like, this is an actual event… This is actually a thing.”

“And so my whole mindset was like, this is just so wild and proves how half these kids might not actually be dead,” he continued. “It was so frustrating but also—this was like a comedy show. This is not real life. This can’t be real life.”

Just a couple rows above Lindenberg, the anti-vax protestors also included a stock photo of a baby receiving a shot.

Shortly after learning of his photo, Lindenberger posted his reaction on Twitter. 

Over the next few days, Lindenberger defended himself on Twitter as people accused him of being immature, photoshopping the photo, or selling out to a pharmaceutical company.

Ultimately though, Lindenberger stressed that he believes most anti-vaxxers mean well but are the unfortunate targets of misinformation campaigns.

“These people aren’t bad people,” Lindenberger said. “They’re just like misinformed, and even though this vigil was hosted by some people that obviously had no idea what they were doing, they’re just trying to convince people that all these children are dying. A lot of people are just asking questions. That’s why it’s important to just engage with them and just be kind and try to answer questions even if it’s frustrating.” 

Newsom Signs Vaccine Bill

The Sep. 11 vigil followed California Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing of two bills on Sep. 9. 

The first, SB276, permits the California Department of Public Health to investigate any doctor who grants more than five medical exemptions in a year. It will also allow the state to revoke any medical exemptions it deems “inappropriate.”

Before signing that bill, Newsom demanded a companion bill be introduced, which allows students with existing medical exemptions to keep those exemptions until they meet specific educational benchmarks. 

Currently, California requires the submission of vaccination records or exemption statuses for kindergarten, seventh grade, and when a student changes schools. Under the new law, any child who receives a medical exemption before 2020 will still be able to enroll in school under their next grade span.

For example, a student who is in first grade this year with a medical exemption for vaccinations would not need to renew their exemption until entering the seventh grade. Additionally, medically exempt students in seventh grade this year will be able to go through the end of high school without vaccinations.

Other aspects of the bill include limiting temporary exemptions to one-year and allowing the Department of Health to review medical exemptions at schools where the vaccination rate is under 95% or at schools that do not report their vaccination rates.

While those bills were being debated in the legislature, a number of people outside the Capitol in Sacramento protested the bills, with one of the main arguments being that the bills would damage doctor-patient relationships.

“I do not believe I will be writing any more exemptions, even when I feel like they would be appropriate,” Dr. Dane Fleidner, a pediatrician specializing in holistic medicine, told Newsom in a letter. “I do not believe anyone else will either… I have had to put a complete moratorium on medical exemptions due to the nature of this legislation.”

The bill, however, was co-sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association.

Before the bills were passed, protestors blocked entrances, temporarily shutting down the chamber floors. Several people were even arrested, and even after the bills were passed, protestors again shut down the floor. 

Those bills come after growing concerns about the number of unvaccinated children in the U.S. Notably, the country faces a resurgence in measles, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting over 1,200 cases this year—a massive spike in cases from recent years.

In California, the statewide immunization rate for kindergarteners has fallen below 95%, with 16% of counties reporting their immunization rates were actually under 90%. A 95% immunization rate is considered the standard threshold for herd immunity.

All of that comes in spite of messages from doctors that vaccines are safe and effective for the overwhelming majority of people.

“Blood” Thrown on Senators

Following the initial protests and the vigil, a woman sitting in the California Senate visitors’ gallery Friday hurled what appeared to be blood onto senators while yelling, “That’s for the babies!”

Investigators later determined she threw a menstrual cup, it’s unknown if the red liquid in it was real blood.

That woman—identified as Rebecca Lee Dalelio, 43—now faces assault charges, as well as charges for vandalism and disrupting the legislature.

See what others are saying: (Sacramento Bee) (KCRA) (CNN)

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#BoycottABC Spreads After Network Aires Ad Burning Picture of AOC

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  • Social media users called for a boycott of ABC after it aired an ad that showed a picture of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being set on fire.
  • The ad was paid for by the Republican political action committee New Faces GOP, which is run by former congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng.
  • In the video, Heng describes the “horrors of socialism” as pictures of the Khmer Rouge death camps in Cambodia appear on the screen. “This is the face of socialism,” Heng says as the picture of Ocasio-Cortez burns.
  • Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter and called the ad “a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case.”

New Faces GOP Ad

The hashtag #BoycottABC circulated all over social media Thursday after the network aired an advertisement during the Democratic Debates that featured a photo of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) catching on fire.

The ad was paid for by New Faces GOP, a Republican political action committee run by Elizabeth Heng, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in California during the 2018 midterm elections.

“This is the face of socialism and ignorance. Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know the horror of socialism?” Heng says in the ad, while a picture of Ocasio-Cortez burns away to reveal a photo of skulls at a Khmer Rouge death camp in Cambodia.

“My father was minutes from death in Cambodia before a forced marriage saved his life. That’s socialism: Forced obedience, starvation,” she continues, as images from the communist regime under the Khmer Rouge flash on the screen.

“Mine is a face of freedom. My skin is not white, I’m not outrageous, racist, nor socialist. I’m a Republican,” Heng concludes as the ad ends.

#BoycottABC Trends

Twitter users responded to the ad on Thursday and Friday, calling for boycotts of ABC.

Some said that the ad was racist or that it promoted violence.

Others pointed out that the ad was aired by an ABC affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and called for a boycott of Sinclair as well.

Some users also called for a boycott of Disney, which owns ABC.

Other people defended the ad and criticized the boycott.

Ocasio-Cortez and Heng Respond

Ocasio-Cortez responded to the ad in a series of Tweets.

“Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren’t racist,” she wrote. “Life is weird!”

“What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case,” she said in another tweet.

Heng responded to one of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets. 

“Are you really calling me a racist?” she wrote. “I’m calling all Democrats out for supporting an evil ideology.”

In a later tweet, Heng added that Ocasio-Cortez’s response to the ad “is the Democratic party in a nutshell. They are more offended by truthful words than the acts of their political ideology that has killed millions of innocent victims.”

Heng also defended the ad in a statement to Roll Call.

“This ad is about fighting the socialist agenda that has taken over the Democratic Party,” she said. “I am not afraid to engage in a debate of ideas, and it is the AOC extremists that have to resort in name calling because they don’t have real solutions for our country.”

ABC and Sinclair have not made public comments on the incident.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (The Hill) (Newsweek)

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