Feds face mounting pressure over Epstein's death

Federal officials are coming under immense and mounting public pressure to explain Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide in his federal jail cell over the weekend.

News of the accused sex trafficker's death was met with immediate outrage and disbelief, with some, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE, fanning conspiracy theories about the financier with connections to numerous wealthy and powerful figures. News outlets have unearthed details of apparent failings at the New York federal jail that housed Epstein.

The spotlight is squarely on Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFederal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe Mulvaney ties withheld Ukraine aid to political probe sought by Trump MORE, who has promised a thorough investigation by the FBI and Justice Department inspector general.

ADVERTISEMENT

On Tuesday, Barr ordered the warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) to be temporarily reassigned pending the federal investigations. Two staff members assigned to Epstein's unit at the MCC were also placed on administration leave until the conclusion of the investigations.

A day earlier, Barr decried what he described as “serious irregularities” at the MCC, where Epstein was found dead in his cell early Saturday.

The attorney general offered no specific details about the conditions at the detention facility, but numerous reports have suggested the jail was understaffed and that Epstein was left unmonitored for long stretches of time before his death.

Some say Barr, who oversees the Federal Bureau of Prisons as part of the Justice Department, bore some of the responsibility in ensuring Epstein was secured — particularly after he was placed on suicide watch in late July.

“There needs to be a question of what happened specifically inside MCC,” said Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. “But there also needs to be a broader organizational examination — what did William Barr and others within the Justice Department do?”

“Did he take any steps to ensure that Epstein would be protected?” Honig continued. “The MCC is Bill Barr’s responsibility.”

The developments have placed the Justice Department and FBI at the center of yet another high-profile, politically charged investigation.

Steve Gomez, a former FBI special agent, said the Justice Department must publicly air the findings of the investigation.

“The optics of what happened with Epstein will need to be addressed,” Gomez said. “Those conspiracy theories are going to have to be addressed, and so, because of that, I believe the public will get some information on what happened as opposed to a low-profile person who is in jail and committed suicide.”

Spokesmen for the FBI and the Justice Department inspector general declined to comment on the probes, but experts said that investigators are likely to scrutinize the policies and procedures in place at the prison, as well as the circumstances and timeline surrounding Epstein’s death.

They will want to know who was monitoring Epstein and when, what was his cause of death, when was he found, and other details.

Officials are likely to heavily focus on the decision to put Epstein on suicide watch in late July and subsequently take him off of it, a move that, according to The New York Times, occurred 12 days before his death.

Federal Bureau of Prisons guidelines from 2007 state that an inmate who is put on suicide watch must undergo a face-to-face evaluation in order to be deemed no longer an imminent risk for suicide and that the decision should be documented in a report sent to the warden and placed in the patients’ medical record.

Gomez said it is unlikely Barr was involved in day-to-day decisions about Epstein’s detention. 

“Barr is so high up the food chain that it’s very unrealistic to expect him to be down in the weeds of procedures that just should be standard with regards to a suspect like this who is in custody,” he said.

At the same time, Gomez said any decision to remove Epstein from suicide watch would have received “high-level briefings and approvals” within the Bureau of Prisons.

Epstein’s death has sparked intense scrutiny of the New York facility and questions about negligence.

Honig described the MCC as a tightly regulated prison with close monitoring and said it is “staggering” and “inexcusable” that the bureau would fail to secure such a high-profile inmate.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDem committee chairs blast Trump G-7 announcement Top Democrat holds moment of silence for Cummings at hearing Barr to speak at Notre Dame law school on Friday MORE (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings Hillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets Graham huddles with House Republicans on impeachment strategy MORE (Ga.), wrote to Bureau of Prisons acting Director Hugh Hurwitz on Monday with a number of questions about the bureau’s policies and the specifics surrounding Epstein’s detention.

“The apparent suicide of this high-profile and—if allegations are proven to be accurate—particularly reprehensible individual while in the federal government’s custody demonstrates severe miscarriages of or deficiencies in inmate protocol and has allowed the deceased to ultimately evade facing justice,” the lawmakers wrote.

Epstein’s death abruptly cut off a high-profile prosecution of heinous sex trafficking allegations, robbing Epstein’s alleged victims of any hope to confront him during a criminal trial.

Barr said Monday that federal prosecutors would continue to investigate the sex trafficking allegations, warning any co-conspirators who participated in the scheme with Epstein that they “should not rest easy.”

“The victims deserve justice and they will get it,” Barr said at the outset of remarks at a law enforcement conference in New Orleans.

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric Sasse NBA commissioner says China asked league to fire Rocket's GM Lawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip Hong Kong protesters trample, burn LeBron James jerseys in wake of comments MORE (R-Neb.) wrote a letter to Barr on Tuesday recommending that the Justice Department nullify the 2008 deal between Epstein and federal prosecutors in Florida in order to go after his co-conspirators.

“The Department of Justice owes the American people answers to several urgent questions surrounding this child rapist’s death,” Sasse wrote. “Too many of Epstein’s secrets have gone to the grave with him, and the Department must not allow his death to be one last sweetheart deal for his co-conspirators.”

Epstein’s arrest on federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District in New York sent shockwaves through the country in early July, prompting scrutiny of his ties to Trump and former President Clinton as well as other high-profile figures.

The indictment unsealed in July alleges that Epstein “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations” between 2002 and 2005.

Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by National Association of Manufacturers — Whistleblower complaint roils Washington On The Money: Senate confirms Scalia as Labor chief | Bill with B in wall funding advanced over Democrats' objections | Lawyers reach deal to delay enforcement of NY tax return subpoena Sanders calls Eugene Scalia's Labor Dept. confirmation 'obscene' MORE was forced to resign from the Trump administration in July after he came under fire for brokering a plea agreement as the U.S. attorney in Miami that allowed Epstein to avoid federal prosecution for sex crimes.

Trump, who ran in the same social circles with Epstein in New York and Florida, has said he had a falling out with Epstein 15 years ago. On Tuesday, he defended retweeting a conspiracy theory suggesting the Clintons were involved in Epstein’s death and called for a “full investigation” into the developments.