The House Judiciary Committee has launched a bipartisan investigation into the circumstances behind the recent jail death of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) sent a letter Monday to the Bureau of Prisons asking nearly two dozen questions about Epstein’s apparent suicide over the weekend at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan.
“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 letter to the prison bureau’s acting director, Hugh Hurwitz, said.
The 23 questions include concerns about Epstein’s surveillance, his detainment and his removal from suicide watch after an alleged attempt last month. They also ask about BOP’s policies related to inmates considered a suicide risk and how they were implemented in Epstein’s case. The BOP is overseen by the Justice Department.
The committee’s letter asked that the BOP respond to the questions by Aug. 21, saying “it is imperative that the Committee on the Judiciary, which has the responsibility to exercise oversight over the Department of Justice, receive responses to these questions related to the adequacy of BOP’s suicide prevention policies and their implementation in this instance, as soon as possible,” the letter said.
Epstein died Saturday at the correctional center’s high-security Special Housing Unit. He had been awaiting trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges in a case that could have shed light on the highly connected financier’s ties to powerful people. His death has brought many calls for answers and an investigation.
Senate Judiciary Committee member Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wrote a scathing letter Saturday to Attorney General William Barr saying that “heads must roll” after Epstein’s death.
“Every single person in the Justice Department ― from your Main Justice headquarters staff all the way to the night-shift jailer ― knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him,” Sasse wrote.
Jail staff did not follow protocols leading up to Epstein’s death, according to a New York Times report. The Associated Press reported that jail guards were working extreme overtime shifts to make up for staffing shortages the morning of his death.
The House Judiciary letter came soon after Barr said that the Justice Department found “serious irregularities” at MCC and that he was angry that jail staffers “failed to adequately secure this prisoner.” Barr said investigations by his department and the FBI inspectors general are ongoing.
The New York City medical examiner completed the autopsy on Epstein’s body Sunday but said the results are pending further information. Epstein’s representatives also had their own pathologist observe the autopsy, according to the Daily Beast.
Epstein avoided federal criminal charges 11 years ago in Florida after he reached a plea agreement with then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta. He was required to register as a sex offender after being convicted of procuring an underage prostitute. He was sentenced to 13 months and was allowed to continue commuting to work while serving his time.
Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown, who has written extensively about the Epstein child sex trafficking allegations, told MSNBC on Sunday that, despite Epstein’s apparent suicide, there are “thousands and thousands” of other documents linked to his case that could potentially implicate co-conspirators.
A day before Epstein’s death, more than 2,000 pages of documents were released related to a now-settled lawsuit against Epstein’s ex-girlfriend by one of his accusers. The documents contain graphic allegations against Epstein and name others who may have been involved.
Epstein’s accusers have continued to call for justice in the wake of Epstein’s death, urging prosecutors to continue their case against him to honor the alleged victims.