White House won’t say if embattled labor secretary Acosta has Trump’s support

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Asked twice in her first press briefing in six weeks whether the job of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta was in jeopardy, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders pointedly declined to endorse the embattled department head.

Acosta—the only Hispanic member of Trump’s cabinet—has faced sharp criticism for the leniency he showed as a U.S. attorney in Miami to Jeffrey Epstein, an accused sexual predator. Epstein is alleged to have engaged in the sex trafficking of underaged girls, yet the plea deal to which he ultimately agreed—and which Epstein brokered—had him admit guilt only on two minor prostitution charges.

Though that deal was struck 11 years ago, full details have only recently been brought to public attention. The revelations about Epstein, which come during a time of #MeToo and a broader conversation about disparities in the criminal justice system, have led to calls for Acosta’s resignation.

Sanders did little to tamp down speculation about Acosta’s future in the Trump administration. Asked by a reporter if Trump had any “misgivings” about Acosta’s role in the Epstein deal, Sanders said only that the matter was “currently under review.” She added that the White House was “certainly looking at it.”

A short time later, Sanders was asked by another reporter whether Trump had “full confidence” in Acosta or whether the Labor Secretary was “possibly leaving.”

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Labor secretary Alexander Acosta
Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a Hispanic Heritage Month event in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta testifies during a hearing before the House Appropriations subcommittee on budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump stands with Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta during a Hispanic Heritage Month event in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump, flanked by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, left, and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, gestures as he answers a question regarding the ongoing situation in North Korea, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is seen in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, during an event for military spouses to discuss the problems they face with employment, as part of "American Dream Week." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump signs an executive order on a revised Cuba policy aimed at stopping the flow of U.S. cash to the country's military and security services while maintaining diplomatic relations, Friday, June 16, 2017, in Miami. From left are, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Cary Roque, Vice President Mike Pence and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., right, shakes hands with Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta following his speech at an event where President Donald Trump announced a revised Cuba policy aimed at stopping the flow of U.S. cash to the country's military and security services while maintaining diplomatic relations, Friday, June 16, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, June 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, third from left, Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Donald Trump, second from right, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, right, tour the Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wis., Tuesday, June 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, center left, and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, right, arrive before a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation hearing on infrastructure on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta speaks during a Infosys economic development announcement, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Indianapolis. The India-based information technology company plans to start a training center in Indianapolis and add 1,000 jobs on top of the 2,000 positions it announced for the city a year ago. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, left, and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, right, tour the Cook Inlet Tribal Council Employment and Training Center on Monday, July 2, 2018, in Anchorage, Alaska. Acosta is traveling in Alaska this week, and said during a Sunday stop in Fairbanks that Alaska's economy should pick up given an increase in military spending and pro-energy policies of the Trump administration. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Sanders passed up the opportunity to reaffirm Trump’s support for Acosta. “I am not aware of any personnel changes,” Sanders said, repeating her previous statement that “those things are currently under review.” She did not say what that review entailed.

Sanders did not immediately respond to a subsequent request for comment.

Were Acosta to either depart or face dismissal, he would be one of a legion of department heads and top-level advisers to leave the administration, including press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief of staff John Kelly, deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, chief strategist Steve Bannon, communications director Mike Dubke, communications director Hope Hicks, communications director Bill Shine, chief counsel Don McGahn, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions, national security adviser Mike Flynn, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, secretary of state Rex Tillerson, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, FBI director James Comey, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

The above is not a complete list.

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