Barr is ‘ap­palled’ by Ep­stein’s jail death, vows to get an­swers

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Mege­rian

WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Wil­liam Barr on Mon­day slammed what he called “se­ri­ous ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” at the fed­eral jail in New York where al­leged sex traf­ficker Jef­frey Ep­stein died in cus­tody, vow­ing to “hold peo­ple ac­count­able” for an episode that has rocked a Jus­tice Depart­ment al­ready ac­cused of mis­han­dling the high-pro­file case.

Barr de­scribed him­self as “ap­palled” and “frankly an­gry” over the ap­par­ent sui­cide Satur­day of the po­lit­i­cally and so­cially con­nected fi­nancier in a cell at the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in lower Man­hat­tan, a lockup run by the Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

An au­topsy was com­pleted, but Dr. Bar­bara Sampson, the chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner, said she was seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion be­fore de­ter­min­ing the cause of death for the 66-year-old Ep­stein, who once hob­nobbed with Bill Clinton and Don­ald Trump, Wall Street moguls, world-fa­mous sci­en­tists and a mem­ber of the Bri­tish royal fam­ily.

The un­cer­tainty kept alive a storm of macabre con­spir­acy the­o­ries on so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing a false­hood shared by Pres­i­dent

Trump that Ep­stein was killed — or se­cretly spir­ited away — to keep from im­pli­cat­ing oth­ers in the al­leged sex traf­fick­ing of mi­nors.

Of­fi­cials pre­vi­ously had said the FBI, the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral and the Bureau of Prisons were in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ep­stein’s death in fed­eral cus­tody. On Mon­day, Barr made clear he was tak­ing a di­rect role in the case.

“We are now learn­ing of se­ri­ous ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at this facility that are deeply con­cern­ing and that de­mand a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Barr said in a speech to a Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice con­ven­tion in New Or­leans. “We will get to the bot­tom of what hap­pened ... and we will hold peo­ple ac­count­able for this fail­ure.”

Call­ing the Ep­stein case “very im­por­tant” to the Jus­tice Depart­ment, Barr pledged that his death would not stop the un­der­ly­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which has been led by the South­ern Dis­trict of New York.

“Let me as­sure you that this case will con­tinue on against any­one who was com­plicit with Ep­stein,” Barr said. “Any co-con­spir­a­tors should not rest easy. The vic­tims de­serve jus­tice, and we will en­sure they get it.”

Ep­stein had been placed on sui­cide watch af­ter he was found on July 23 with bruises on his neck that sug­gested he had tried to hang him­self. But he was taken off sui­cide watch by the end of July, the As­so­ci­ated Press reported, and was shifted to a two-per­son cell where a guard was sup­posed to look in ev­ery 30 min­utes.

Ep­stein was alone in his cell early Satur­day, how­ever, and guards re­port­edly were not check­ing on him as fre­quently as re­quired, even though he was in a high-se­cu­rity unit known for hold­ing such no­to­ri­ous pris­on­ers in the past as mob boss John Gotti and Mex­i­can drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Staffing short­ages are com­mon at the high-rise jail. In­mates staged a hunger strike in Jan­uary af­ter they were de­nied fam­ily vis­its.

Ep­stein was ar­rested at an air­port in New Jer­sey on July 6 af­ter ar­riv­ing on his pri­vate plane from Paris. He was charged with sex traf­fick­ing and con­spir­acy, and the in­dict­ment sug­gested that oth­ers who par­tic­i­pated in the crim­i­nal scheme could still be charged.

The head­line-grab­bing case quickly ex­panded as new wit­nesses emerged, a for­mer client ac­cused him of steal­ing at least $46 mil­lion, and nearly 2,000 pages of newly un­sealed court doc­u­ments sug­gested Ep­stein had en­joyed an op­u­lent life­style and abused dozens of young girls. Po­lice found a trove of porno­graphic pho­tos, in­clud­ing some of al­legedly un­der­age girls, in his New York town­house.

The in­dict­ment said Ep­stein spent years bring­ing girls as young as 14 to his lav­ish homes in New York and Palm Beach, Fla., for “mas­sages” that be­came “in­creas­ingly sex­ual in na­ture,” end­ing in mo­lesta­tion and abuse. Prose­cu­tors said vic­tims were paid hun­dreds of dol­lars in cash and re­ceived more money to re­cruit other girls.

“Ep­stein main­tained a steady sup­ply of new vic­tims to ex­ploit,” the in­dict­ment said.

He was de­nied bail and faced up to 45 years in prison if con­victed.

The lurid case was al­ready shrouded in mys­tery and scan­dal be­fore Ep­stein’s death added a mor­bid twist.

He was re­quired to reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender years ago as part of a se­cre­tive plea deal reached with fed­eral prose­cu­tors in Florida. A fed­eral judge ruled this year that the deal broke the law be­cause vic­tims were not in­formed of the de­tails.

The en­su­ing con­tro­versy forced R. Alexan­der Acosta, who over­saw the orig­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion as the U.S. at­tor­ney in Mi­ami, to re­sign as Trump’s sec­re­tary of La­bor last month.

Ep­stein’s case long has proved a fer­tile ground for con­spir­acy the­o­ries be­cause of the le­nient plea deal and his con­nec­tions to for­mer Pres­i­dent Clinton, who flew on Ep­stein’s pri­vate plane af­ter leav­ing the Oval Of­fice, and Trump, who so­cial­ized with him years ago in Palm Beach. Other global fig­ures vis­ited Ep­stein’s pri­vate is­land in the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands.

Now his death has sparked its own ram­pant spec­u­la­tion, and some sus­pected foul play de­spite the lack of ev­i­dence.

Trump pointed the fin­ger at the Clin­tons, shar­ing a tweet from a con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor that said “Jef­fery Ep­stein had in­for­ma­tion on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead” and the hash­tag “Clinton Body Count.” Oth­ers quickly tweeted back counter-al­le­ga­tions un­der the hash­tag “Trump Body Count.”

Far-right fig­ures have long ac­cused the Clin­tons of be­ing be­hind var­i­ous deaths, most no­tably Vince Foster. The White House lawyer com­mit­ted sui­cide in a Vir­ginia park in 1993.

Trump has rou­tinely em­braced out­landish and false claims, in­clud­ing ac­cus­ing Cal­i­for­nia of al­low­ing mil­lions of il­le­gal votes and deny­ing that Pres­i­dent Obama was born in the United States. The White House did not re­spond to a request for com­ment about Trump’s retweet.

New York’s for­mer mayor, Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani, who rep­re­sented Trump dur­ing the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion ex­am­in­ing Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, urged cau­tion about jump­ing to con­clu­sions.

“The con­spir­acy the­o­ries con­cern­ing the Ep­stein death are mul­ti­ply­ing. The facts seem un­be­liev­able,” he tweeted. “But it is best to wait for some key facts like the find­ings of the au­topsy. With­hold­ing judg­ment is the wis­est course to fol­low.”

Ep­stein’s death drew new at­ten­tion to the plague of sui­cides in the na­tion’s lock­ups, most of which re­ceive lit­tle to no pub­lic at­ten­tion. Hun­dreds of jail in­mates com­mit sui­cide ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of Jus­tice Sta­tis­tics, a fed­eral agency.

David Grunfeld As­so­ci­ated Press

ATTY. GEN. Wil­liam Barr cited “se­ri­ous ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” at the jail hold­ing Jef­frey Ep­stein.

Uma Sanghvi Palm Beach Post

JEF­FREY EP­STEIN in 2008. The fi­nancier ap­par­ently killed him­self in his jail cell. Pres­i­dent Trump helped spread con­spir­acy the­o­ries about the death.

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