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Trump administration’s tumultuous week ends with Acosta resignation

Labor Sec. Alex Acosta has resigned over criticism of his 2008 prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein for sex crimes. Acosta joined President Trump to make the announcement to reporters, two days after the Cabinet secretary had held a news conference to address the issue. Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is again gearing up for deportation raids. Judy Woodruff talks to Yamiche Alcindor.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The U.S. secretary of labor, Alex Acosta, is out.

    When President Trump met with reporters at the White House today, he had Acosta by his side to announce his resignation, just before Mr. Trump left for a trip to Wisconsin.

    Acosta had held a news conference of his own earlier this week, defending his involvement in a 2008 lawsuit involving alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who then received a jail sentence that critics have called unusually lenient.

    Today, Acosta criticized news coverage of the case, but said he didn't want to be a distraction to the administration's work.

    The president paid him a compliment.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He's a tremendous talent. He's a Hispanic man. He went to Harvard, a great student. And in so many ways, I just hate what he's saying now, because we're going to miss him.

    But, please, Alex.

  • Alexander Acosta:

    It would be selfish for me to stay in this position and continue talking about a case that's 12 years old, rather than about the amazing economy we have right now.

    And so I submitted my resignation to the president, effective seven days from today, effective one week from today, earlier this morning.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The "NewsHour"'s Yamiche Alcindor was at the White House this morning. And she joins me now here in the studio.

    So, Yamiche, this Epstein story keeps growing. Late today, we learned there was a court filing in New York that accuses Mr. Epstein of witness tampering, paying potential witnesses against him $350,000. So we are watching that new development.

    But, in the meantime, as we said, you were at the White House. You were there on the South Lawn. How did this resignation come about?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this was an uncomfortable moment at the end of an uncomfortable week for Secretary Acosta.

    There is a thing call a perp walk, where local officials, local police department sometimes tell reporters when a criminal defendant or a high-profile suspect is going to be coming into the police station. That's what this felt like today.

    It felt like Alex Acosta was being brought before the cameras to really explain to people that he was the problem, that he's a distraction amongst all the great things that the Trump administration is doing.

    And it's important to remember how we got here. And how we got here is, the president essentially forced Secretary Acosta to go before cameras earlier this week. He encouraged him to have a press conference, where he was defending himself against this backlash.

    The president then took a couple of days to think about how he did in that press conference, and decided that he just basically didn't do well enough. So the president is saying that this was Secretary Acosta's idea, but, in reality, the president decided that he was not going to be able to stay on because he didn't look good for the administration.

    Then you add to the idea that the president is now trying to really distance himself from Jeffrey Epstein. They were good friends. They used to party together, have at times young women, not underage women, but young women, at these parties.

    But these new charges against Epstein of essentially paying witnesses to not talk about the things that they might know about his possible human trafficking and abuse of children shows that this isn't going to go away.

    So, even though Alex Acosta is now leaving the administration, effective on July 19, what we see is that the president might still be having to deal with this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we heard the president, as you — as you say, further distancing himself today from Jeffrey Epstein.

    So, Yamiche, we know now there have been a number of high-level departures from the administration, one Cabinet secretary after another. How does what happened today with Acosta add to this upheaval that's been going on?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The revolving door at the White House just keeps on spinning.

    What we have is Secretary Acosta becoming one of just a number of Cabinet officials who have been forced out or resigned or even fired at times.

    I want to put up a graphic for people, an image of what — some of the people that have left the administration on there. We have Patrick Shanahan, who was the acting secretary of defense. He withdrew, and he — the president withdrew his nomination to be a permanent defense secretary because of domestic violence allegations.

    Scott Pruitt was forced out because he had issues with first-class travel and possible cozy relationships with lobbyists. You had Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned because he was essentially upset by the president's announcement that he was going to be withdrawing troops from Syria.

    So there are a number of people who have left this administration in controversy. And then add to that the fact that they are now going to be even more acting secretaries in this administration. So you're going to have an acting labor secretary. You're going to have an acting defense secretary, an acting U.N. ambassador.

    So there's this — in some ways, this administration is going to be having so many people in these acting roles. And what's important about that is that these are people that are really going to now be limited. They're not going to be able to really have the agendas or be able to make the decisions that they might be able to make if they had permanent jobs within the administration.

    And it's also important to note that there are no Latinos in the administration right now. Alex Acosta, as the president was praising him, was the only Latino member of the president's administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And these acting positions, as you point out, because they haven't been confirmed by the Senate, which is what one needs to do to be able to carry out the official duties.

    Finally, Yamiche, another issue, one of the many other issues boiling at the White House, and that is what are expected to be these large-scale immigrant — raids on immigrants around the country by ICE.

    What more was the president saying about that this morning?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president insists that these raids are going to be happening. He said that they're going to start on Sunday.

    I put the question to him, what do you think of the fact that now everyone knows about this? Is it putting law enforcement and the public at risk?

    Here's what he told me:

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's not something I like doing, but people have come into our country illegally. It starts on Sunday. And they're going to take people out. And they're going to bring them back to their countries, or they're going to take criminals out, put them in prison, or put them in prison in the countries they came from.

    We're focused on criminals as much as we can.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president said he's focused on criminals. But there are a lot of people who think families are going to be caught up in this.

    There's going to be this thing called collateral deportations, where even if you're not an immigrant who's being targeted, if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, you might be swept up in these. There are some agents who have told news reporters that they're worried about having to deport babies and having to deal with families.

    Add to that the fact that there are all these groups that are going to now be setting up hot lines and rapid-response networks to try to really give support to immigrants who are really bracing for the worst.

    One immigrant today told a national network that they feel like a hurricane is coming. So there are people that are missing work, that are really, really scared about this. But the president says that this must happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of uncertainty around that. And we're going to be following it all weekend and, of course, reporting on it on Monday.

    Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

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