Attorney General William Barr speaks at a roundtable with members of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

William Barr says Jeffrey Epstein's death was a "perfect storm of screw-ups"

Attorney general addresses troubling circumstances of sex trafficker's apparent jail-cell suicide in August


Shira Tarlo
November 22, 2019 9:45PM (UTC)

Attorney General William Barr said that while he had suspicions about the death of financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein on Aug. 10 — while behind bars at one of the most secure jails in the country — he has concluded that Epstein's death was the result of a "perfect storm of screw-ups."

In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Barr said his concerns were prompted by several irregularities at the New York jail where Epstein was being held. But he said that after the FBI and the Justice Department's inspector general completed an investigation Epstein's death, Barr concluded that a "series" of security lapses and errors that gave Epstein the chance to take his own life.

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"I can understand people who immediately, whose minds went to sort of the worst-case scenario because it was a perfect storm of screw-ups," the attorney general told the news outlet as he flew to Montana for an event.

Barr's comments come just days after two correctional officers were charged with falsifying prison records. The guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, were responsible for guarding the wealthy financier until he could be tried on charges of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls. They are accused of sleeping and browsing the internet rather than supervising Epstein, whose cell was supposed to be checked every 30 minutes.

Epstein was dead from an apparent suicide when guards arrived to deliver breakfast on Aug. 10, just two weeks after he had been taken off suicide watch. He apparently took his own life while awaiting trial on charges he ran a years-long sex-trafficking operation in which he and his associates lured dozens of girls, some as young as 14 years old, to his homes in New York and Florida. Epstein has been accused of recruiting the girls to give him "massages" in the nude that progressed to masturbation and sexual acts.

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His death has set off an explosion of unfounded conspiracy theories on social media and shed a light on the federal Bureau of Prisons, which has drawn criticism for substandard conditions, chronic staffing shortages and outbreaks of violence.

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into the circumstances that led to Epstein's death, including why he wasn't given a cellmate. That investigation is ongoing.

"I think it was important to have a roommate in there with him and we're looking into why that wasn't done, and I think every indication is that was a screw-up," Barr told the AP. "The systems to assure that was done were not followed."

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Despite Epstein's death, federal prosecutors in New York have continued their investigation into his presumed criminal activity. Barr, who has vowed to aggressively investigate and bring charges against anyone who may have helped Epstein, told the AP that investigators are making progress in the case.

"They are definitely pushing things along," Barr said. "I'll just say there is good progress being made, and I'm hopeful in a relatively short time there will be tangible results."

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Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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