Mr. Acosta’s decision to resign comes as he has also been personally distraught over the recent damage to his reputation, the people familiar with his thinking said. Privately he has been expressing regret over his handling of the Epstein case, telling associates that in retrospect, he “would have done things differently.”
Prosecutors accused Mr. Epstein and his employees of running a sex-trafficking scheme to bring dozens of girls — some as young as 14 — to his homes in New York and Palm Beach, Fla., from 2002 to 2005. If convicted, he could face up to 45 years in prison.
Congressional Democrats on Thursday demanded a briefing from the Justice Department about the 2008 agreement by Mr. Acosta’s office not to prosecute Mr. Epstein, which included a promise to Mr. Epstein’s defense team that federal prosecutors would not notify his victims of the arrangement, a practice that was not only unusual but against the law. The secrecy around the negotiations raised questions why Mr. Epstein — whom Mr. Trump recently described as a “fixture” in Palm Beach, where the president’s Mar-a-Lago club is — received such a lenient punishment.
Lisa Bloom, a lawyer who represents several of Mr. Epstein’s accusers, said Mr. Acosta never belonged in the position in Mr. Trump’s administration that he is leaving.
“President Trump was willing to overlook Acosta’s sweetheart deal with Epstein when he appointed Acosta, even though many raised this issue at the time,” Ms. Bloom said in an email. “Acosta has abused his public trust and should never have been appointed in the first place.”
She said her clients were struggling with memories of the sexual abuse, prompted by news of the new charges, “but also hopeful that accountability may really, finally, at last be possible.”
Theodore J. Leopold, a lawyer who represented one of the first girls to come forward, said Mr. Acosta was likely forced out because of election year pressure.
“I personally think the resignation has to do more with the fact that every day in the news the president’s name was coming up in conjunction with Epstein,” Mr. Leopold said. “This is going to be a campaign issue. It was going to come back to the president at some point in time if Acosta stayed, because every day there was more fuel to the fire.”