For perhaps the first time this year, I find myself in full agreement with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The circumstances of Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide seem very strange indeed, so much so that it raises all sorts of questions as to what happened, how, and especially why:
We need answers. Lots of them.https://t.co/4DMckiZnVB
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 10, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez is hardly the only person demanding answers either, as Epstein’s victims have been robbed of their opportunity for justice. Epstein wasn’t just some minor figure sitting in a local lockup who had never sent out any signals of potential self- (or other-directed-) harm. “He was probably the most high-profile inmate” in federal custody in that facility, CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz reminded viewers, one who had apparently attempted suicide once before. Why wasn’t Epstein under 24-hour watch? Paul Callan wonders the same thing:
“He should’ve been under 24-hour guard, and I expect that heads will roll in the federal prison system for this lax in proper security,” legal analyst @PaulCallan says after Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide, according to sources. https://t.co/YfUuYB6WtF pic.twitter.com/sjZFIPXYYs
— CNN (@CNN) August 10, 2019
Even if he did commit suicide — as opposed to having someone impose suicide on him — that still leaves serious questions as to how he could have pulled it off. CBS News reports that Epstein was indeed on suicide watch since last month:
Epstein, 66, had been put on suicide watch after he was found injured on the floor of his cell in late July. At the time, law enforcement sources told CBS News Epstein was found lying on the floor of his cell, semi-conscious with slight bruising around his neck.
Or was he? NBC now reports that Epstein wasn’t on suicide watch despite his previous reported attempt to harm himself:
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 10, 2019
“It raises a lot of questions in a lot of people’s minds,” CNN’s anchor comments at the end. Indeed it does. This is precisely what “suicide watch” is intended to prevent. Epstein’s victims deserved their day in court against the predator who exploited him, and also their day in court against anyone else who joined in that exploitation. If NBC’s correct, then someone needs to explain why the suicide watch was cancelled on Epstein — including who ordered it and why.
Either this was the most unfortunate moment of incompetence for federal incarceration in memory, or it was something other than entirely self-willed. The question of cui bono has already begun to bubble up among media figures, noting the convenience that Epstein’s now-perpetual silence might have for some very important figures. That question ranges across the political spectrum, too, from Trump 2020 board member Harlan Hill to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough:
Dead men tell no tales. Just as Jeffrey Epstein starts to name names, he decides to kill himself? Mkay. Totally believable. https://t.co/PJFUgFBpao
— Harlan Z. Hill (@Harlan) August 10, 2019
Authorities couldn’t keep Epstein alive by putting him under 24 hour surveillance? How convenient for a lot of rich and powerful men.
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) August 10, 2019
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) sounds unconvinced that this is only an unfortunate accident. Sasse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had been pushing the Department of Justice to explain Epstein’s original plea deal, and now he also wants answers to explain how this could have happened (via e-mail statement):
“As a private matter, our house is praying for both Epstein’s family and the many women who were denied justice in this life. But as a matter of public policy, the government has failed these girls yet again. It is inexcusable that this rapist was not under constant suicide watch. These victims deserved to face their serial abuser in court.”
It’s still possible that Epstein really did commit suicide today. After all, he’d attempted it once before, and it appeared that the power of his money and connections had finally failed him. This time around, there would be no sweetheart deal that allowed him six-days-a-week “work release” from a local jail and the ability to keep his vast fortune. Any deal prosecutors might cut would involve several years of hard time, perhaps for the rest of his life. His money could help him cope in federal prison, but only to a small extent. That huge fall in lifestyle certainly would lead to some despair.
On the other hand, that despair seems at least a little premature. Epstein had at least a valid argument that this new prosecution amounted to double jeopardy, an argument that his attorneys hadn’t even begun in court yet. He still had the funds to hire a fleet of the country’s best attorneys to extricate him from his troubles and options still left on the table.
And among those options would be to start naming names of the men who accompanied Epstein on his sexual exploitation of underaged girls. Prosecutors might have been interested enough in that information to trade it off for a little window of freedom for Epstein at the end of his eventual incarceration. That’s why Epstein’s suicide seems so very suspicious at this point — because of that very powerful card Epstein still had left to play against some very powerful men.
Maybe Epstein just couldn’t face another day of his humiliation, but maybe something else was in play here, too. In this instance, Ocasio-Cortez is right — we need answers from the Department of Justice, and lots of them.
Update: The FBI has opened an investigation into Epstein’s suicide and the circumstances of his incarceration. Maybe this should go to the Inspector General’s office instead, although Michael Horowitz is rather busy these days.
Update: Former US Attorney Preet Bharara raises an eyebrow:
So it seems that Epstein was in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) but not recently on suicide watch, which according to BOP’s Suicide Prevention Program, requires removal from the SHU. https://t.co/1fQc18NVbt pic.twitter.com/L2DrAr7xqm
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) August 10, 2019