WASHINGTON — House Democrats waded further on Thursday into a dispute over Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta’s handling of a sex crimes prosecution of the financier Jeffrey Epstein when he was a federal prosecutor more than a decade ago, demanding a briefing from Justice Department officials and access to documents related to the plea agreement he oversaw.
In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, Democrats on a House judiciary subcommittee on crime said that they wanted access within two weeks to all information on the 2008 nonprosecution agreement, as well as to any accusations of professional misconduct by Mr. Acosta, who was then the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
“As members of the committee with oversight of the Department of Justice, we believe it is of paramount importance that we learn the basis and rationale for the unusual plea deal and review source documents that shed light on the disturbing agreement,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Representative Karen Bass of California. “We have serious misgivings about Secretary Acosta’s handling of the case and whether the department fairly administered justice.”
Interest in the plea deal and Mr. Acosta’s role in it were reignited this week when Mr. Epstein was indicted in New York on federal charges of sex trafficking that included damning details of luring minors to have sex with him. The authorities subsequently found nude photographs of young girls when they searched his home.
Mr. Epstein had faced similar accusations more than a decade ago, but under a plea agreement with Mr. Acosta’s office, he was shielded from federal prosecution and served only 13 months in jail after being accused of sexually abusing dozens of young women and girls.
Top Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, called on Mr. Acosta this week to resign as labor secretary. And on Wednesday, another House panel, the Oversight and Reform Committee, requested that the labor secretary appear in person on Capitol Hill this month to testify about the case.
Mr. Acosta mounted his own long-winded defense on Wednesday in a televised news conference. He argued that federal prosecutors had acted to ensure that Mr. Epstein would face jail time, rather than holding out for a potentially stiffer sentence by taking the case to trial, where the outcome would have been “a roll of the dice.”
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