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HALA GORANI TONIGHT
Interview With Former Acting United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Lewis Lukens; Interview With British Conservative Lawmaker, Alistair Burt; Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta Speaks In A Press Conference Amid Calls For His Resignation; Acosta Defends Secret Sweetheart Plea Deal For Epstein. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired July 10, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
14:00:23] BIANCA NOBILO, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN London, I'm Bianca Nobilo, sitting in for Hala Gorani.
Tonight, we're following two major news stories. The British ambassador to the United States resigns, just days after leaked memos show he described
the Trump administration as "inept." We're live at Downing Street and the White House with reaction.
And a new accuser of the alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, speaks out. Plus, we're expected to hear from U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta,
this hour. He's under fire over a plea deal he made with Epstein years ago.
"A very stupid guy, wacky, a pompous fool." That was President Trump's response as he lashed out in a diplomatic row with the U.K.'s ambassador to
the U.S. And now, that ambassador, Kim Darroch, has been forced to resign.
It all started after leaked cables showed him calling the Trump administration "clumsy and inept." The president insisted he would no
longer deal with him. And when the frontrunner to become the next British prime minister, Boris Johnson, failed to back Darroch, it seemed his fate
Prime Minister Theresa May, however, expressed her regret at Darroch's decision to resign. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Good government depends on public servants being able to give full and frank advice. I want all our public
servants to have the confidence to be able to do that. And I hope the house will reflect on the importance of defending our values and
principles, particularly when they are under pressure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: We're covering these developments from both capitals where the story is playing out. Our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson,
is at Number 10 Downing Street here in London. And Abby Phillip is at the White House.
Nic, let's start with you. How did the ambassador explain his decision to resign?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, he put it very simply. Two issues. One, his family, that he realized that if he stayed
on in Washington, then his family was going to be under tremendous pressure in the coming weeks, in the coming months potentially, however long the
issue dragged out, that there'd be a lot of pressure and focus on them.
And then the other was quite simply, as well, a work issue. That he recognized that the embassy couldn't function at its best, couldn't
function properly, couldn't do its job if he stayed in position. So this is why he explained that he left. He recognized this and decided that this
was the best way to go, quickly.
NOBILO: And, Nic, now, we've heard from -- reaction from a host of people in the United Kingdom, to this development. Now, given that somebody did
decide to leak this for some objective of their own, what have we heard from people who have applauded this decision or are pleased to see the
ambassador on the way out?
ROBERTSON: Well, certainly, we know for example, that the frontrunner to be prime minister, Boris Johnson, has a good relationship with President
Trump. President Trump has certainly said positive things about Boris Johnson and his ability to potentially lead this country.
And so if -- can Darroch, as people speculated because of his time at the E.U. and the things that he said in his cables, that he was -- that he was
not supportive of Boris Johnson's Brexit position, and not particularly supportive of negotiations on a trade deal with the United States, that
therefore, you know, Kim Darroch could become an impediment to what Boris Johnson wants to achieve.
Boris Johnson, however, has said that he regrets Sir Kim Darroch going. He said that he has worked with Kim Darroch and believes him to be a superb
diplomat. He said that twice.
But he also seemed to focus a lot on his frustration and anger with the person that leaked this document, saying that they should be caught and
We've heard from, obviously, the prime minister, expressing her regret. We've heard from the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, expressing his deep
sadness about this, and paying tribute to Sir Kim Darroch and the importance of the work that he does and other ambassadors do.
First minister of Scotland, described it, you know, as being regretful. Amber Rudd, an important and senior cabinet member here for Theresa May,
and potentially going forward -- potentially -- has been, you know, expressing her regret.
So they -- I think in the round, there is a lot of support for Sir Kim Darroch. Not for the person that leaked the material.
NOBILO: Just before we get to Abby Phillip, let's take a listen to what Boris Johnson has had to say about the departure of Sir Kim Darroch, which
you just mentioned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[14:05:08] BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADERSHIP CANDIDATE: I regret that, really. Because I think he was a superb -- he is a superb
diplomat and I worked with him for many years. And I think that whoever leaked his diptels really has done a grave disservice to our civil servants
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you weren't going to back (ph) him. You said last night --
JOHNSON: Thank you. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- you weren't going to back him.
JOHNSON: No, on the contrary. Well, I -- look, my view is it's wrong to drag civil servants into the political arena. That's what I think.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, CANDIDATE FOR BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is vital that our civil service is not politicized by -- by ministers leaking what they say.
JULIE ETCHINGHAM, ITV HOST: Will he still be in his job come January?
JOHNSON: whoever leaked that deserves to be eviscerated --
JEREMY HUNT, CANDIDATE FOR BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Boris, just answer the question for once. Go on.
ETCHINGHAM: Mr. Hunt --
JOHNSON: -- and on -- on whether -- on whether --
HUNT: Go on, tell us if you'll keep the ambassador in Washington. Come on.
JOHNSON: -- no (ph) amount (ph) of sympathy --
HUNT: I will keep him until he's due to retire.
HUNT: And I think we'd like to know if you would.
JOHNSON: Well, I'm not going to be so presumptuous as to --
HUNT: Ah. This is not (ph) --
ETCHINGHAM: Thank you. OK --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: Abby, we were just listening, there, to Boris Johnson in the debate last night in the United Kingdom, giving his reaction to these
leaks. And then we heard from him today, expressing that he thought that the ambassador was in fact superb.
But uncharacteristically, we haven't heard from the president so far today, Abby. Why do you think that is, after he did have quite a lot to say about
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think that that is very much a good question because President Trump created this moment. He
put so much pressure on the situation, that it was impossible for Kim Darroch to continue in his job, to the point where that was one of the
reasons that he cited, that President Trump basically said, "I won't deal with you here in Washington."
Now, Kim Darroch isn't always meeting with President Trump at all times, but it certainly makes his job much more difficult.
But at the same time, President Trump had been a little bit rebuked. You heard the foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, saying this is disrespectful to
Theresa May, to the United Kingdom. This is supposed to be a friendship and the respect has to go both ways.
So it is possible that President Trump is holding back because he's already gotten what he wanted in this case. And frankly, there is quite a bit
going on here, back at home, the president facing his own troubles over a cabinet secretary, facing some issues here in Washington.
But the anger that we saw from him in those tweets over the weekend, that was very much real. White House aides were basically taking their cues
from him. he took this as a personal affront. Some of the criticisms in those cables were descriptions of his administration. Some of them were
descriptions of him. But all of it, the president took personally.
And he is not one to take these kinds of things without responding to them. And I think he will view this as a victory, given that he made it very
clear to whoever was succeeding Theresa May, he didn't want this ambassador to be in that position for much longer.
NOBILO: Abby Phillip in Washington, Nic Robertson at Downing Street. Thank you both very much.
I want to get the perspective, now, of a former U.S. diplomat. Lewis Lukens previously served as acting U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom
and he joins me now in the studio.
Thank you very much --
LEWIS LUKENS, FORMER ACTING UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED KINGDOM: Thank you.
NOBILO: -- for being with us.
First things first. How much damage, do you think, this has done to the special relationship between the U.K. and the U.S.?
LUKENS: I think it definitely has done damage. It's hard to quantify that. But I think this is really an extraordinary moment. I mean, let's
not sugarcoat what happened. The president basically kicked out the U.K. ambassador, made it such -- he didn't formally PNG him, but he made it such
that he couldn't do his job any more. And Sir Kim then resigned.
So in this special relationship, I've never seen or heard of a moment like this. So in that sense, it's a real threat to the special relationship.
The work of a special relationship -- the security, the prosperity -- that will go on. But there's a new tenor at the leadership level here, with
this notion that the U.S. president can dictate who the British representative in Washington is.
NOBILO: So let's delve deeper into the president's reaction. Because after all, you could say that the president has effectively ousted the
ambassador. But it was actually the leak itself which precipitated this chain of events, which obviously President Trump was going to respond to in
kind, because that's what we have come to recognize from how he --
LUKENS: Correct (ph).
NOBILO: -- deals with these sorts of matters.
So what would you say about that, as somebody who was a former acting ambassador? The importance of being able to have that open and frank
conversation with your own government from your embassy. Will that mean that the allies won't be able to trust the U.K. in the same way, the fact
that this leak has happened? And how do you -- how do you assess the president's reaction to this as opposed to another leader?
LUKENS: Well, there's a couple things there. So I definitely think British diplomats around the world will be much more careful of how they
send messages back to London with descriptions of the governments where -- that they're working with. Because I think no one wants this to happen to
them. It casts a pall on diplomacy, and it makes it hard for diplomats to do their job.
[14:10:04] The president's reaction? I mean, clearly, he was unhappy at the criticism and the -- and the way that Sir Kim characterized his
administration and characterized him. He's notoriously thin-skinned, I think, and just lashed out.
But the level -- sort of the viciousness of his attack on not just Sir Kim but on the prime minister, was really surprising to me. I mean, it was --
it -- you know, this could have gone away. This could have been a one-day story. But the president, in his sort of overreaction to it, ensures that
it goes on and on and on.
NOBILO: And also because the ambassador himself is not a political figure. And as Boris Johnson, the argument he was making, shouldn't be brought into
the political arena. He's not really able to defend himself --
NOBILO: -- as such.
LUKENS: Yes. I mean, diplomats can't do that. They have to stay apolitical.
NOBILO: And with that in mind, what advice would you give to the next United Kingdom ambassador to the United States, who's going to fill this
role, having watched all of this play out?
LUKENS: Don't put a lot in writing.
I think the new ambassador will have -- you know, really, an opportunity. It would be an opportunity to reset the relationship. Will obviously reach
out very quickly to the president and his key aides when he gets to Washington, to develop those contacts.
But it'll be a difficult time, and I think that person will have to have a sense of nervousness, that something will get out and he will also be
declared persona non grata by the president.
NOBILO: Do you think that that will be enough for the Trump administration to consider the relationship reset? Because we will be having a new prime
minister in about two weeks' time. Then there'll be a new ambassador to follow. Do you think this will be water under the bridge then, because the
cast of characters will have changed?
LUKENS: Well, it might be. But I think the thing to keep in mind is that we have some serious policy differences between the U.S. and the U.K. these
days. And, you know --
LUKENS: -- whether it was over Iran or climate change, these are things where the U.S. and the U.K. have always been fairly closely aligned. We
always had differences in our policies over the years, but very much closely aligned. And over the last two and a half years, our interests
have diverged quite dramatically.
And so it's not just the cosmetics of a new ambassador coming in and setting up new relationships. There are deep policy issues that are
dividing us right now, and those are harder to tackle.
NOBILO: Making the job much more challenging?
NOBILO: Lewis Lukens, thank you --
LUKENS: Great (ph).
NOBILO: -- very much for joining us.
LUKENS: Thank you.
NOBILOS: Appreciate your insight.
Following the resignation of the British ambassador to Washington, the head of the U.K. Diplomatic Service spoke to a committee in Parliament and
outlined the reasons why Kim Darroch felt that he had to step down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMON MCDONALD, HEAD OF U.K. DIPLOMATIC SERVICE: One is the pressure on his family, who have been living every minute with him and he did not want
to put them through possibly months more. It was his judgment that for as long as he remained in Washington, he would be a target and his family,
And second, the impact on the rest of the embassy in Washington and their ability to work. As you know, Mr. Chairman, the ambassador is the keystone
of any embassy. And if he does not have access to the people he needs to have or she needs to have access, then the work of the whole mission
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: And that diplomatic row in Washington has become a political one in Westminster. Let's bring in Alistair Burt, British Conservative
lawmaker and former minister at the Foreign Office, and Department for International Development.
Thank you very much for joining us this evening. My first question is --
ALISTAIR BURT, FORMER U.K. FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER: Thank you for asking.
NOBILO: -- in your capacity -- in your capacity as a minister in the Foreign Office, presumably you'd met Kim Darroch. Did you know him well?
BURT: I knew him professionally, and I knew him quite well professionally. Because as I was in the Foreign Office on and off since 2010, I'd come
across Kim Darroch in his role as national security advisor as well as ambassador.
Thought well of him. Knew him very easily and very well, to talk to. Valued his opinion and thought he was an excellent diplomat.
NOBILO: You also worked, of course, with Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary, when you were minister in the Foreign Office. Do you feel that
Johnson's unwillingness to back Kim Darroch in the debate last night has reflected poorly upon him at this critical point in the leadership
BURT: Well, firstly, I was surprised by his reaction. It's almost axiomatic in the United Kingdom, that when one of your men is down and
under attack, you support them.
It was clear that the leak has done the damage. Let's be very clear about that. But the leak did not reveal that Kim Darroch had done anything
wrong. He had done his job and was doing his job.
Automatically, therefore, I would imagine a principal would support his ambassador in that circumstance. That is exactly what Jeremy Hunt did.
And so I was surprised that Boris Johnson did not.
[14:15:00] Whether it affects the leadership situation is very hard to tell. Most people in the Conservative Party who are going to vote, maybe
many of them will already have voted by now, that have voted on a series of other things. So I don't think necessarily it will affect that outcome.
But certainly, it leaves a lingering sense of concern about judgment. I think automatically, if you're asked a question, "Do you back your
ambassador in a circumstance where he's done nothing wrong and he's being attacked by someone else?" Your short answer is yes. You don't need to
think about it very much.
Obviously, Boris Johnson did need to think about it. And when he thought about it, I don't think he came to the right conclusion.
NOBILO: Can I infer from what you just said that you wouldn't have too much confidence in a Boris Johnson premiership? And would you serve under
him, if given the opportunity to do so, as a minister or a secretary of state?
BURT: Well, the second thing is unlikely to arise, in all fairness. I made my decision about ministry a little while ago.
In the first instance, well, I have served with Boris Johnson. He gave me good support when I was working on the Middle East, and I have no criticism
in relation to that. He let me get on with the job and we had good conversations. And of course, he will be surrounded by good advisors.
But there are moments when you have to make a judgment yourself, where a prime minister is solely responsible for dealing with contrasting opinion
and having to make a decision himself in those circumstances. I'm choosing to vote for Jeremy Hunt.
NOBILO: You know, more than most, the importance of maintaining the confidence of these dispatches that were leaked. Does it concern you --
well, how much does it concern you that there was a leak in the first place? And what can you tell us about this process of investigation which
is now under way to find out who perpetrated that leak? Who will be involved in that, and what might the process look like?
BURT: I can't tell you too much about the second because I'm too remote from it. Clearly, it will involve senior officials at the Foreign Office
having a look at anything electronic they can. I have no knowledge of precisely how the leak was done, whether it was paper, whether it was
electronic or anything else.
But certainly, all efforts -- and you can imagine, they would be considerable, bearing in mind the importance of the leak -- will be
directed towards it.
How concerned am I? I'm very concerned. We do rely on our diplomatic telegrams being -- needing to be honest, needing to be read by just those
people who need to read them.
Firstly, you have to rely on the honesty of all those who work with in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and our diplomats and our staff. I would
be immensely surprised if it was one of them. And then the distribution goes further. It will go to some other department, and will go to --
perhaps to some politicians.
So I am worried about the implications of the leak, of course. Anyone would be. It is a worry. I do indeed hope that the inquiry finds out what
it needs to find, identifies the individual and makes sure they face the full rigor of the law, as they should.
NOBILO: Finally, I understand that you'd be reluctant to descend into any kind of speculation. But when trying to assess who may have benefited from
leaking these e-mails, and given that certain figures have come out in the public domain and said that it's a good thing that Kim Darroch is leaving
his post, what do you make of that? Who do you think stands to gain from him stepping down?
BURT: Well, it's very hard to see any upsides in this whole situation. Who stands to benefit? Those who wish to see harm to the relationship to
the United States and the United Kingdom, in the first place. It would benefit them.
There may be something personal, secondly, in terms of who might have wanted to damage the relationship involving Kim Darroch himself.
There could be some network involved a chain that might have thought that somebody somewhere was doing a favor to the president of the United States,
to try and give him some information that he would react upon.
Maybe someone was calculating that the reaction of the president would be as strong as it has been, that he couldn't rise above criticism, which he
must be aware of and must have heard from many others, and therefore would have been able to damp it down and it not run on.
I don't know. There are plenty who would benefit. But the only people who can benefit are those who would seek to harm the relationship. What I can
say with absolute conviction is, it won't work.
There will be no harm to the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. It is too deep. It is too strong. It will survive
any president, any prime minister because it has gone on a long time. It's secure. It's based on trade, intelligence, trust and a shared history. It
will survive this, I have no doubt about it.
And diplomats, good diplomats like Kim Darroch, people will have learned some lessons from this. But I hope that they realize, diplomats, that they
have the full support of Parliament. They have the full support of this prime minister and this foreign secretary. And I sincerely hope that
endures in the future.
[14:20:07] NOBILO: Alistair Burt, thank you very much for joining us this evening from Westminster.
BURT: Thank you.
NOBILO: Flights have been suspended into and out of Britain's second busiest airport, Gatwick, due to an issue with air traffic control systems.
In a tweet, Gatwick Airport said it is working to rectify the problem as quickly as possible, and apologized to passengers.
Still to come tonight, the U.S. labor secretary is under fire for an 11- year-old plea deal he gave to newly indicted financier Jeffrey Epstein. Alex Acosta is going to talk about it, just minutes from now. We'll have
the details. Stay with us.
NOBILO: Welcome back. Very soon, we're expecting to hear from U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta about a controversial plea deal he offered to Jeffrey
The American financier was indicted Monday on sex trafficking and child abuse charges. Acosta was a U.S. attorney in 2008 when he offered Epstein
a plea deal on similar charges, described by critics as way too lenient. Democrats are calling on Acosta to resign.
All of this is happening as one of Epstein's accusers went public, accusing him of raping her when she was 15. Here's some of her gripping interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNIFER ARAOZ, JEFFREY EPSTEIN ACCUSER: He knew very well, my age. He knew exactly, you know? Who he was hanging out with, you know? I don't
think he cared.
Very forcefully, kind of brought me into the table and I just did what I was -- what he told me to do. I was really scared.
I didn't necessarily think that he was, you know, going to rape me.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC TODAY SHOW HOST: Did he hold you there?
ARAOZ: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
GUTHRIE: No question in your mind, he knew you did not want that to happen?
ARAOZ: Oh, yes. No, he definitely -- yes. There was no way -- I was like -- I don't want to say I was screaming or anything of that nature, but I
was terrified and I was telling him to stop. "Please stop," you know?
GUTHRIE: Did he?
ARAOZ: No, he did not stop. He had no intention of stopping.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: Jennifer Araoz today filed a petition with the New York State Supreme Court, seeking documents and other information to aid her in a
civil lawsuit against Epstein.
The story is resonating around the world, not only because of the horrific nature of Epstein's alleged crimes, but also because of the high-profile
company that he kept. CNN's Oren Liebermann explains how Epstein had become the focus of a heated campaign fight in Israel.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeffrey Epstein is suddenly the biggest name in Israeli politics. The Jewish-American
multimillionaire charged with sex trafficking of minors is the focus of a war of words and tweets between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who has just re-entered politics.
[14:25:08] Netanyahu attacked his former commander for his connections to Epstein, accusing the media of burying the story.
Meet Jeffrey Epstein, suspected of pedophilia and a rich past in sexual offenses. Epstein was the head of the Wexner Foundation, that gave Barak
$3 million for a research program that never was and never came to be. What else did the sexual offender give Ehud Barak? Is the media going to
A spokesperson said the Wexner Foundation severed ties with Epstein more than a decade ago, according to "Forbes." On Israeli radio Tuesday, Barak
said he's paid large amounts of money for research and consulting. Asked what the work was about, Barak told the radio host to ask the Wexner
On Twitter, Barak fired back, saying it hurts to hear that people he knew have been caught up in criminal actions. First Netanyahu, then Epstein.
Netanyahu faces his own criminal investigations, with the attorney general announcing his intent to indict Netanyahu on bribery and breach of trust
charges pending an October hearing. Netanyahu has maintained his innocence.
With two months to go until Israel goes back to the ballot box, Netanyahu's Likud party is polling far ahead of Barak's Israel Democratic Party. But
their back-and-forth is the biggest fight in an otherwise quiet campaign so far.
In another Twitter attack, Barak questioned Netanyahu's connection to Arnaud Mimran, a French multimillionaire who's serving an eight-year jail
sentence in a massive fraud case. Netanyahu has acknowledged he received $40,000 from Mimran when he was a private citizen. All of it legally, he
EHUD BARAK, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): In the state of Netanyahu, the crooked people get up and do things. You can
bribe, cheat and violate trust. In Netanyahu land, there is immunity. The leader is above the law.
LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu's Likud party has demanded that Israel's attorney general open a criminal investigation into the ties between Barak and, as
this statement puts it, "the convicted pedophile, Jeffrey Epstein." The A.G.'s office tells CNN they have received the request and are dealing with
it in the official manner. Meanwhile in New York, Epstein has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.
NOBILO: We'll have much more on Epstein's case, ahead, as we wait to hear what Donald Trump's labor secretary has to say about his role in the
controversial plea deal that happened years ago. Alex Acosta is expected to speak very soon and we'll bring it to you, live.
NOBILO: Welcome back. We're waiting on U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta's statement about his past dealings with indicted financier Jeffrey Epstein.
[14:30:04] In 2008, Acosta who you will see here on the left offered Epstein a plea deal that allowed him to avoid federal sex trafficking
charges in Florida. Epstein was indicted Monday on similar charges to those ones in New York. Critics say the deal Acosta gave to Epstein was
far too lenient. It's been referred to as a sweetheart deal.
Democrats are calling on Acosta to resign. And we've learned that President Trump told Acosta to hold a news conference today to defend his
role in the plea deal. So there's a lot to break down here.
I'm joined my CNN Legal Analyst, Joey Jackson, and White House Correspondent, Abby Phillip.
First to you, Abby, as I just mentioned, we've now learned that President Trump is that has asked for this press conference to take place. What is
the response being from the White House over rule to this indictment?
PHILLIP: Well, there is a sense here that Alex Acosta has a big job to do today. He has to stop the bleeding on the situation.
And the reason President Trump asked him to do this because Trump wants Acosta to own the situation to answer these questions and to try to create
an opportunity for him to survive this. President Trump has largely been supportive when asked yesterday by reporters about whether or not he had
confidence in Alex Acosta. He praised him.
But at the same time, our sources are telling us he's watching this very closely. It's important to him how this plays in the media in the near-
term and in the long-term and that is what's going to determine whether Acosta will survive this entire episode.
We're not sure whether or not he might take questions or he'll just deliver a statement, but we're getting the sense from White House aides all morning
that they're preparing for him to defend his role in all of this saying that he was tough on Epstein, that he was so tough, in fact, that though
prosecutors wanted him kicked off of that case.
So I think we're likely going to hear from Acosta all the ways in which this was, in his view, an appropriate way to act. But I think the 13-month
sentence for someone who is now being tried again for similar crimes is really what's raising questions here.
But the audience, the person who matters the most, obviously, is going to be President Trump who's the final decision maker. I think there are few
White House aides want to say definitively which way he will come down on this situation.
NOBILO: Thanks, Abby.
Let's go to Joey Jackson, next. Joey, as Abby was mentioning, there's a lot of riding on this. Acosta needs to defend his role all those years
ago. So what is it about this indictment which has raised fresh questions about the way that he handle that?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Bianca, the answer everything about it. The fact that is that we have a criminal justice system, and in
that system, you have to treat everyone evenly and equally. And when you have an allegation back as it were years ago, right, 2001, et cetera. But
in 2008 you're prosecuting.
And when you have a situation where you have almost 36 or so, people who are alleged to be sexually abused, young girls, and you get away with it,
when it's a crime punishable by life, and you do 13 months in prison, and you plead not to federal charges, but to state charges, and then you're
allowed out on work release to do your job, it becomes problematic, because that's not a plea deal that a normal standard person can get.
And so it raises the question of how do we get there? What happened? How was that allowed to occur when a normal person would get that? And so,
yes, we are waiting for him to state his piece in terms of how he oversaw this investigation, what his role was in the investigation.
But it's not so much of what he says, to me, it's what you did. The further issue, Bianca, in this case is that there were no notifications of
the actual victims involved, and it's standard protocol that that would occur. To the extent that it didn't, that's a shame.
NOBILO: Take a listen to the U.S. labor secretary who's speaking now, Acosta. Here we go.
ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Let me start by reiterating that I'm pleased that the New York prosecution is going forward. They brought
these charges based on new evidence against Jeffery Epstein who's now a registered sex offender. And this is a very, very good thing. His acts
are despicable and New York prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring Epstein to justice.
In 2008, a major newspaper describes the Epstein prosecution like this. A Florida grand jury that is a grand jury convened by the district attorney
of Palm Beach County had charged Epstein with a lesser offense. At that time, the Epstein's team was elated. He would have avoided prison all
[14:35:02] But then the United States attorney's office in Miami became involved. Epstein got an ultimatum, plead guilty to a charge that would
require jail time and registration or face federal charges. And that was the week more than 10 years ago that Epstein went to jail.
Times have changed and coverage of this case has certainly changed since that article. Facts are important and facts are being overlooked. This
matter started as a state matter who has prosecuted initially by the State of Florida and not by the U.S. Attorney's office.
In 2006, a grand jury convened by the state attorney, the district attorney of Palm Beach County reviewed the evidence and recommended a single charge.
And that charge would have resulted in no jail time at all. No registration as a sexual offender and no restitution to the victim.
Further, the state attorney's office allowed Epstein to self-surrender and arraigned him the following morning. Simply put the Palm Beach state
attorney office was ready to let Epstein walk free, no jail time. Nothing.
Prosecutors and my former office found this to be completely unacceptable. And they became involved, our office became involved. Our prosecutors has
this 2008 article recounts presented the ultimatum, plead guilty to more serious charges, charges that required jail time registration and
restitution or we'd roll the dice and bring a federal indictment.
Without the work of our prosecutors, Epstein would have gotten away with just that state charge. Now, many today questioned the terms of that
ultimatum, what's called the non-prosecution agreement. Good prosecutor will tell you that these cases are complex, especially when they involved
children, and even more so in 2006.
I've shared with those in this room today, and will make available publicly. An affidavit filed by the career prosecutor in a civil manner
related to the Epstein case. She talks about the challenges fixed. She talks about the victims being scared and traumatized, refusing to testify,
and how some victims actually exonerated Epstein.
Most had significant concerns about their identities being revealed. The acts that they had faced were horrible and they didn't want people to know
about them. And she goes onto write that, "After the fact, people alleged that Epstein would have been easily convicted."
As the prosecutor who handled the investigation, she says in this affidavit. These contentions overlooked the facts that existed at the
time. Her description of these facts are corroborated by the FBI case agent whose affidavit I've also shared today.
Thousands of prosecutors around the nation, this week, are weighing guilty pleas versus trials. These cases, as I've said, are hard. They require
prosecutor to ask whether a plea that guarantees jail time and guarantees registration to ask whether that plea versus going to trial. How do you
weigh those two? If going to trial is viewed as the role of the judge.
The goal here was straightforward. Put Epstein behind bars, ensured 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 mist.
This case, people have said, was unusual, and it was. It was complicated by the fact that this matter started as a state investigation. A state
grand jury rot that single completely unacceptable charge. A state official allowed Epstein to self-surrender.
And so it is unusual, because unusual for a federal prosecutor to intervene in a state matter such as this. We've seen cases recently, different set
of facts, different. I don't want anyone to say I'm comparing these cases. But we've seen other cases where state prosecutors let folks go with no
sentence and people shake their heads.
[14:40:16] In this case, the federal office intervened before the plea was taken and said stop. Because if that plea is taken at the state level,
you're going to face serious federal issues.
Today, we know a lot more about how victim's trauma impacts their testimony. And this too is important. Our juries are more accepting of
contradictory statements, understanding that trauma impacted memories work differently.
And today, our judges do not allow victim shaming by the defense attorneys. I have viewed the victim interviews, they're hard to watch. Because I know
that my former colleagues, the men and women of my office wanted to help them. I wanted to help them. That is why we intervened.
And that's what the prosecutors of my office did. They insist to go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator.
Epstein's actions absolutely deserve a stiffer sentence. For years, there have been rumors of investigations and other jurisdictions and he should be
prosecuted in any state in which he committed a crime. If there are other states which he committed crimes, if there are other states that can bring
state charges, they should consider those as well.
And so I absolutely welcome this New York prosecution, it is the absolutely right thing to do and I'm happy to take questions.
Eric? Where at?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you describe your relationship with the president, the news cycle here with Epstein is changing that?
ACOSTA: My relationship with the president is outstanding. He has -- I think very publicly, made clear that I've got his support. He spoke
yesterday in the Oval Office. He and I have spoken. Let me add, I keep reading about articles about my relationship with me and Mr. Mulvaney. And
he called me this morning to say fast that our relationship is excellent too and that any articles that contrary are in his word, yes. And so it's
-- I'm here I'm defending this case. That's my job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom (INAUDIBLE) news. Secretary, a lot of people are watching this news conference including several young women who say they
were teenagers when Jeffrey Epstein sexually assaulted them. They say they went to you looking for help and they didn't hear back from you until it
was too late. Do you owe them an apology?
ACOSTA: So you're raising the issue of victim notification. And in the documents that I've circulated, I have addressed the issue of victim
notification as well.
The career prosecutor in this case had a difficult decision to make, and she didn't make it alone. She made it in consultation with the FBI and she
made it in consultation with the office.
The agreement that had been negotiated had an unusual provision. Even though this was a state case, the victims would have the opportunity to
receive restitution. Epstein would be required to pay for them to hire a lawyer to bring a case against him, a case in which he would have to plead
no contest and provide them with restitution.
And the concern, and these are the words of the career prosecutor. That, "She did not want to share with the victims." That the office was
attempting to secure for them, the ability to obtain monetary compensation, because she is aware that if she disclose that, and the negotiations fell
through, Epstein's counsel would use this to question the victim's credibility. And her concerns were not hypothetical.
One of Epstein's attorneys had already asked one of the victims, "Now, tell me about when the federal prosecutors told you about getting money." And
so when the agreement was signed shortly after the agreement was signed. Epstein's counsels indicated that Epstein may not comply with the
agreement. And the agreement was appealed at various levels within the Justice Department.
[14:45:10] And she details from this affidavit, an affidavit that's also corroborated by the FBI case agents. How she and he and the office was
concerned that Epstein might not comply. And we would have to go through trial. And we had to weigh the issue of how much to disclose against the
issue -- if we have to go to trial, we want to win, we want to put Epstein away. And talking about this would allow him to make the argument of
trial. That their testimony was compromised.
And so, when she was finally -- when it was finally clear that Epstein would comply with the agreement, she talks about how she made efforts to
notify the victims. How that was a Friday afternoon at 4:15 and that she learned that the state had scheduled the plea for 8:30 the following
Monday. And she talks about how over the weekend she made every effort to notify the victims at that time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier, you described the approach in negotiating this deal as an ultimatum to Mr. Epstein. And I wanted to draw your attention
to (INAUDIBLE) which is the prosecutors should seek the charges only if the prosecutor believes (INAUDIBLE) supported by probable cause, the list of
evidence will be sufficient to support conviction beyond the reasonable doubt, and the decision charge is in the interest of justice.
Do you believe, sir that the evidence against Epstein wouldn't have been sufficient to secure conviction beyond the reasonable doubt for the fellow
offenses and who's doing a non-prosecution (INAUDIBLE)? And if so, why was it not in the interest of justice to charge him with these crimes?
ACOSTA: So, again, I would refer you to the documents I've provided. There is a big gulf between sufficient evidence to go to trial and
sufficient evidence to be confident in the outcome of that trial.
And so if I could, and I'll give you a follow-up in a minute. But if I could. And so when this case, and I provided a letter that outlines some
of the timeline of this. In July of 2007, the career staff from my office met and they said these are the four points that you will have to do in
state court. And if not, we will proceed federally.
They were very serious that they would proceed federally. That does not mean that they were confident in the final outcome. And one of the tough
questions in these cases, what is the value of a secure guilty plea with registration versus rolling the dice? And I know that in 2019, looking
back on 2008, things may look different. But this was the judgment of prosecutors with dozens of years of experience. If you look through that
letter, you'll see this was not a single person making those decisions. You wanted to follow-up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, quick question. I described (INAUDIBLE) you would roll the dice with charges, and I understand that you're saying now that
it's never a slam dunk.
But it seems that -- it seems like you're making this out to be a case in which you held the possibility of a federal indictment over the head of Mr.
Epstein to get you to plead to a lesser crime. And that in itself is against the ABA.
ACOSTA: I do not think that the office violated the ABA standards by negotiating strongly and forcefully.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So standing here today, are you basically saying that you feel that you did everything you could, you got the best deal you could
get and you have no regrets?
ACOSTA: We believe that we proceeded appropriately. That based on the evidence, and not just my opinion, but I've shared the affidavit, based on
the evidence. There was value to getting a guilty plea, and having him registered.
[14:50:06] Look, no regret is a very hard question. At my confirmation hearing, I was asked some questions. And one of the issues that I raised
is we expect a lot more transparency today.
As you watch these victim interviews, it's very obvious that the victims feel that this was not a sufficient outcome. These victims were
traumatized. We can't begin to understand what they went through. And they look at this and they say, but why? And so you always look back and
you say, what if?
What I can say is at the time, and I provided the timeline and provided information about the individuals involved, this was the view of the
office. There is a value to a sure guilty plea. Because letting him walk, letting what the state attorney was ready to do, go forward, would have
been absolutely awful.
BEN PENN, LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT REPORTER, BLOOMBERG LAW: Yes, Ben Penn from Bloomberg Law. In light of the attention this week on your handling back
in 2008, victims of sex trafficking, I wanted to ask about your role today as a Secretary of Labor, you have oversight through the Wage and Hour
Division of certifying visas for victims of human trafficking, including sex trafficking.
Just last week, your Wage and Hour Division issued a new policy that would, essentially, allow the agency -- it's being criticized by a lot of people I
talked to, for allowing the agency to completely remove itself or to virtually remove itself from continuing to certify these visas by referring
them to other agencies.
How can you defend -- what was the purpose of that policy?
ACOSTA: So that is -- if you read the policy, that is not what it does. Our Wage and Hour administrator, after she was confirmed, came in and she
reviewed the policies. And she put in place a requirement that a criminal prosecutor be consulted any time one of these issues is brought to the
division's attention. And that seems very reasonable.
Don't we want criminal prosecutors to be consulted whenever someone says that they are victim of trafficking? And that prosecutor will be
And even if that prosecutor says this is not a case that we are going forward with, the division will still consider whether to issue that visa
on the facts. So that is a mischaracterization of her decision and her policy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could you go into a bit more detail about where and how you exactly negotiated this deal? Did you meet with Epstein's attorney
alone at the Marriott Hotel?
ACOSTA: So, you know, I've read this and one of the things I find interesting is how facts become facts because they're in a newspaper as
oppose to the record.
I pulled up -- I found out the details of that meeting because I scratched my own head about that it and I provided you a timeline in a letter of
negotiations, and make it very clear that this was negotiated by career prosecutors.
I'm going to answer your question. The meeting that was alleged was a breakfast meeting that took place after the agreement was negotiated, not
before. The agreement was signed in September. After the agreement was negotiated, one of Epstein's attorneys asked for a meeting, asked for a
hearing. I was giving a speech, I was staying at the hotel. I agreed to have a brief meeting, I believe at 7:00 A.M.
Rather than open the office, I spoke with that attorney. And then I referred that attorney to the career prosecutors, nothing changed in that
agreement. They'd continued to litigate the matter, they continued to appeal the matter to Washington and nothing changed with one exception.
There was an addendum that made clear that Epstein had to pay for any attorney that a victim, that represented a victim in this cases against
And so, yes, I met with the opposing counsel. It was a breakfast meeting, because I was staying at the hotel. It was after, after, not before, and
part of the negotiations. But it was after the agreement had been negotiated, and that could be confirmed simply by looking at the date on
the agreement and the date on the meeting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it a good idea to do that?
ACOSTA: So number one, the agreement had already been locked in place. So the agreement wasn't going to change. Before that agreement, I was very
careful to not negotiate this. Our career attorneys negotiated the agreement.
[14:55:08] Secondly, I point out, you live in a city where people have breakfast meetings all the time. You don't open an office at 7:00 in the
morning just to have a meeting. You have it over breakfast.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary Acosta, it's not standard for a non- prosecution agreement to include a --
ACOSTA: Let me do this. I'll come back to you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't the young girls --
ACOSTA: I wanted to give an opportunity. I'll come back to you in a minute.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. You've mentioned several times that you and the prosecutors in your office weren't sure that you could secure a
win in this case. But the very purpose of the CVRA is to give the victims an opportunity to weigh in and a federal judge ruled that you broke federal
law by not doing so.
Do you think that your thinking would have been different had you followed the law and consulted the victims?
ACOSTA: So, first, let me -- let me point out, we followed department policy. Department policy at the time made very clear, and this is in a
written statement that was subsequently issued by what is called the office of legal counsel, which is the chief policy making, the chief legal arm of
the Department of Justice that these situations with non-prosecution agreements are not covered by the CVRA at the time, because the CVRA,
according to the department policy does not attach until a case is actually brought.
Now, I understand that the judge had a different view, and I understand that the judges' view was the department policy did not comply with the
law. And that's the way our system works. Our system works and that a judge can say what the department policy is not consistent with the law.
Now, let me also point out, since then, a few years ago, Congress amended the CVRA, and Congress amended it explicitly to say that non-prosecution
agreement would be, in fact, covered. And that is a good thing.
As I said at my confirmation hearing, we expect a lot more transparency. If we had more transparency, perhaps, this case would have gone
differently. I have laid out the reasons why there are concerns about providing all the details to the victims before Epstein played.
But the Department of Justice have been very clear throughout multiple presidential administrations, throughout multiple attorneys general, that
the department's position is that there was no violation of the law.
Yes. I'm sorry, your name and who you're with?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kaitlan Collins for CNN.
COLLINS: Would you make the same agreement today?
ACOSTA: So these questions are always very difficult. Because 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 victims shaming that could have taken place at trial,
12 years ago. Today's world understands that when interviewing victims on a listening testimony, that testimony can be sometimes contradictory. That
memories are difficult.
And so I don't think we can say, you know, take a case that is this old and fully know how it play out today.
COLLINS: But these victims say you failed them.
ACOSTA: I understand what the victims say, and I'm not here to try to say that I can stand in their shoes or that I can address their concerns. I'm
here to say, we did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail. He needed to go to jail. He needed to go to jail, and that was --
that was the focus.
John Fund (ph). John?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Secretary, can I ask you a question about the office of (INAUDIBLE)
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Peter Alexander from NBC.
ALEXANDER: To be clear, dozens of girls were allegedly molested. Why didn't you just keep investigating in that power?
ACOSTA: So the victims of which we were aware were part of this. And under the agreement in the Southern District of Florida, the investigation
seized them. They had the opportunity to proceed in some way. That does not mean that the investigation had to seize nationwide.