US Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned Friday, amid a backlash over a secret plea deal he negotiated a decade ago with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier accused of sexually abusing young girls.
Acosta, 50, a former federal prosecutor, had been facing mounting calls to quit over the deal that saw Epstein serve just 13 months in a county jail.
"I called the president this morning and told him that I thought the right thing was to step aside," Acosta said in a joint appearance with President Donald Trump at the White House.
Epstein, 66, was charged on Monday by prosecutors in New York with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors. He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
Trump, who had defended Acosta after Epstein's arrest, described him as a "tremendous talent" and "great secretary of labour" who had done a "very good job."
The president said Patrick Pizzella, Acosta's deputy, "will do the job. Highly recommended by Alex. Going to be acting. He's already been told." According to prosecutors, Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage teen girls at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005. Some were as young as 14.
Acosta fielded a barrage of questions Wednesday from reporters about his office's handling of the Epstein case when he was a federal prosecutor in Florida.
The deal reached with Epstein required him to admit a single state charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor and register as a sex offender.
Acosta said prosecutors agreed to the deal rather than take Epstein to trial on more serious charges because that would have been a "roll of the dice." "The goal here was straightforward," he said.
"Put Epstein behind bars, ensure he registered as a sexual offender, provide victims with the means to seek restitution, and protect the public by putting them on notice that a sexual predator was in their midst."
Acosta welcomed the revived charges against Epstein but demurred when asked whether he should apologise to the victims in the Florida case.
Another alleged victim of Epstein went public Wednesday with her claim that he raped her when she was 15 years old.
Jennifer Araoz, 32, told NBC News that she was recruited by a woman outside her New York City high school in 2001 to meet Epstein at his Manhattan townhouse. She said that in the fall of 2002, Epstein raped her.
"He raped me, forcefully raped me," Araoz said, adding that she did not return to his home after that day.
She said she was afraid at the time of going to the authorities.
Top Democrats in Congress, including House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, have called this week for Acosta's resignation.
"Acosta was never fit to serve in the Cabinet - his departure is the right thing for our country," tweeted Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate when she lost the 2016 election to Trump.
"Now it's time to focus on finally securing justice for survivors of Epstein's abuse and getting a Labor Secretary who will stand up for workers and trafficking victims."