WASHINGTON — Just hours after sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein was found hanged in his lower Manhattan prison cell, the federal government began an investigation into how he managed to kill himself after a failed attempt in late July.
At the very beginning, that investigation was led by the inspector general of the Department of Justice — which oversees the Bureau of Prisons, in whose custody Epstein died — and the FBI.
In the days since, the investigation into Epstein’s death has expanded to include several more federal entities in both Washington and New York, suggesting that Attorney General William Barr is aware his reputation is tethered to the resolution of the Epstein affair.
An official at the Department of Justice who spoke only on the condition of anonymity told Yahoo News that aside from the Justice Department inspector general and the FBI, the investigation into Epstein’s suicide has been joined by the Southern District of New York (the federal court in which Epstein would have faced trial), Main Justice (that is, the department’s Washington headquarters), a Bureau of Prisons after-actions team and Bureau of Prisons psychiatric staff equipped to deal with suicide.
The Department of Justice official would not say how long the investigation would take or whether investigators are under pressure to conclude their work quickly.
The outcome of that investigation could have significant implications for both the Epstein case and the federal prison system at large. Epstein’s death is only the latest of a string of abuses at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), which has been troubled as long as it has been open. His death comes only months after the Metropolitan Detention Center — another federal prison in New York, this one in the borough of Brooklyn — lost heat and light in the midst of a brutally cold spell of winter. The outage lasted for days, leading to prisoner protests.
So far, much of the blame for Epstein’s death has been focused on two guards at the MCC. Reports have indicated that they may have been sleeping when they were supposed to be monitoring him and other inmates.
Eric Young, president of a union for federal prison workers, told Yahoo News that placing the blame on those guards would be misguided. He speculated that they were “probably overworked and fatigued” and said that overall, corrections officers in federal prisons were underpaid and exhausted. Young said that corrections officers were already the “black sheep” of the federal law enforcement apparatus, adding that many of his union members were “very scared” Barr would ultimately blame them for Epstein’s death.
Doing so, Young argued, would only betray how little most people understand the difficulties corrections officers face, including psychological duress and fears of assault from inmates. “We were trying to protect him,” said Young, bristling at the criticism that has been leveled at correctional officers since Epstein’s death.
“You want to Monday-morning-quarterback us when we fall short?” the union president asked.
If he is frustrated, Epstein’s victims — underage women he allegedly trafficked to his friends and associates — are significantly more so. “We’ve worked so hard to get here, and he stole that from us too,” one of those accusers, Virginia Giuffre, told the New York Times.
Barr has vowed to pursue any accomplices who helped Epstein in his exploitation of young girls as sex slaves. That accounting will have to come as Barr struggles to explain how Epstein himself managed to evade justice by taking his own life.
Among those eager for resolution is Alan Dershowitz, the former Harvard Law School professor who represented Epstein. Giuffre, a prominent Epstein accuser, said she had sex with Dershowitz as well. Dershowitz has forcefully denied any improper involvement with Epstein as well as sexual contact with Giuffre.
“I am happy to have the investigation go forward,” Dershowitz told Yahoo News on Wednesday, referring apparently not to Epstein’s death but to the alleged activities that brought him to a lower Manhattan detention center in the first place. Dershowitz said he was confident that such an investigation would exculpate “those who’ve been falsely accused.”
Dershowitz, who met Epstein in 1996 and was close to him in the years that followed, said he was surprised that Epstein killed himself. “I’m not surprised that Epstein tried,” Dershowitz elaborated. “I am only surprised that he succeeded.”
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