Several Senate Republicans on Monday brushed off new criticism being aimed at Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaRene (Alex) Alexander AcostaJeffrey Epstein charged with sex trafficking crimes involving minors The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats assail border conditions as Congress returns to work Jeffrey Epstein arrested on sex trafficking-related charges: reports MORE over his involvement in a 2008 plea deal with billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Acosta is facing intense scrutiny, including calls for him to resign, after federal prosecutors in New York unsealed new sex trafficking charges against Epstein on Monday, including alleging abuse of dozens of female minors.
But Senate Republicans stopped short of criticizing Acosta, much less echoing calls for him to resign, signaling that they won't publicly pressure the Labor chief to step down or for President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe ambassador's cables and the Tory election Trump to give speech on 'America's environmental leadership' NY governor signs bill allowing Congress to obtain Trump's state tax returns MORE to oust him.
Instead, GOP senators noted that the 2008 plea deal was vetted as part of Acosta's 2017 hearing for his Labor secretary nomination. Under the deal, Epstein avoided a life sentence and instead spent 13 months in county jail.
Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate sets new voting record with Iran war measure Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Senate panel advances bipartisan package on health costs | Grassley, Wyden in talks on deal to limit drug price increases | Court asks if blue states have standing in ObamaCare suit Senate Health Committee advances bipartisan package to lower health costs MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, told reporters that they had "looked into that thoroughly."
"We found that the plea agreement that Secretary Acosta agreed to when he was U.S. attorney was approved by the Bush Justice Department, it was defended by the Obama Justice Department, and then by the Trump Justice Department," Alexander told reporters.
Pressed if he thought the plea deal was a bad idea, Alexander added: "You have three different presidents’ Justice Departments saying that the plea agreement was consistent with Department of Justice policy."
Asked if Acosta should resign over the Epstein scandal, Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyHillicon Valley: Trump gets pushback after reversing course on Huawei | China installing surveillance apps on visitors' phones | Internet provider Cloudflare suffers outage | Consumer groups look to stop Facebook cryptocurrency GOP senators press Pompeo on Boeing satellite sales to Chinese firms GOP lawmakers press Trump to cut deal with China at G-20 MORE (R-Iowa) noted that oversight of the plea deal and Acosta's role wasn't within his committee's jurisdiction.
"This was up about three months ago, and then all of the sudden it died down, so I don't know how big of a deal it is," Grassley said before ditching reporters by cutting into the Senate kitchens.
Grassley, asked again later Monday evening about potential fallout for Acosta, added that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility had opened up an investigation into the plea deal and "we ought to wait and see what they come up with."
Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP blocks election security bill Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns This week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, demurred when asked if Acosta should resign, suggesting he was satisfied with the Senate's previous review of the plea deal.
"You know I've looked at that, it was early in the application of the new protections for parties that were victims, and it's my view that the state prosecutors were appropriate prosecutors to deal with that but we'll see. If there's more that comes out, I'll be glad to look at it," Blunt said.
"At this point, I think it's been looked at repeatedly, and I think everybody has reached the same conclusion," Blunt added.
Acosta was confirmed in a 60-38 vote for the Labor Department post, including winning the support of nine Democratic senators. He's defended the 2008 plea deal, which took place when he was the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida, arguing that it ensured Epstein serve jail time, register as a sex offender and pay damages to victims.
"At the end of day, Mr. Epstein went to jail. Epstein was incarcerated. He registered as a sex offender,” Acosta told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee last year.
But the plea deal is under fresh scrutiny in the wake of Monday's indictment, sparking new questions about Acosta's future in the Trump administration, where multiple Cabinet officials have been ousted amid scandal.
Former Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCummings announces expansion of Oversight panel's White House personal email probe, citing stonewalling Former chairman appears at House Oversight contempt debate Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties MORE (R-Utah) said he would be "surprised" if Trump did not fire the Labor secretary.
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineMeet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Congress needs to repeal the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command MORE (D-Va.), a member of the HELP Committee who previously asked Acosta about the plea deal, said in a tweet on Monday that the Trump official "must go."
Other GOP senators indicated as they returned to Washington on Monday after the weeklong July 4 recess that they hadn't heard about the new indictments against Epstein, but appeared skeptical that they offered new information on the plea deal with Acosta.
Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoMelania Trump heading to West Virginia to discuss opioid epidemic Press beat lawmakers to keep trophy in annual softball game Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' MORE (W.Va.), a member of GOP leadership, said Monday that she talked to Acosta "several months ago about this and so I'm satisfied."
Asked about the new charges against Epstein, Capito should she hadn't seen them, but "at this point I'm satisfied."
Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocratic Senate hopes hinge on Trump tide On The Money: GOP raises concerns about White House plan to avoid shutdown | Trump pushes Fed to weaken dollar | Trade deficit spikes | Dow, S&P, Nasdaq set record highs Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, initially declined to comment until he found out more information, before adding that "all that stuff I think was addressed at the time, so unless there's new information."
Asked if Acosta should resign after she stopped to take a photo of an out-of-order clock near the Senate floor, Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle Steve King denied seat on Air Force One for Trump trip to Iowa: report Iowa Democrat calls foul on White House over Trump ethanol tour invite MORE (Neb.), a member of GOP leadership, sidestepped.
"I don't know. Why do you people ask this stuff?" she asked. "Don't you realize that we're working on tough legislation."