Merrick Garland testified Monday that it was “horrendous” that deceased child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein had not been “vigorously prosecuted” much earlier than he was, though President Biden’s pick for attorney general said he does not know why the Justice Department had failed so badly.
The Justice Department concluded in November that former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta and other federal prosecutors exercised “poor judgment” in their handling of 2008’s sweetheart deal with the jet-setting financier and accused sex trafficker but did not conclude there had been professional misconduct. Epstein was arrested more than a decade later and was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell in the summer of 2019.
During Garland’s confirmation hearing Monday, Sen. Ben Sasse brought up the Epstein case, saying: “Obviously, he evaded justice for years, and when the department did ultimately partner with local authorities, it allowed charges to be brought that didn’t befit the seriousness of his crimes. Infuriatingly, he was allowed to die by apparent suicide in federal custody, despite the fact that everybody knew he was a suicide risk and many people would benefit from that outcome.”
The Nebraska Republican said Epstein’s estate was also failing to compensate the victims properly and asked Garland what he believed had gone wrong with the DOJ investigation.
Garland said all he knew about the case was what he’d read in the news and seen on TV, and Sasse asked if Garland would agree about how “disgustingly embarrassing … the department’s pursuit” of Epstein was.
“Absolutely — but you asked me the ‘why’ question, and I can’t answer the ‘why’ question,” Garland replied. “But on the values question, I can answer. This is just horrendous, and he obviously should’ve been vigorously prosecuted substantially earlier — but I don’t know the why.”
Sasse urged Garland to ensure the Justice Department prioritized the investigations into Epstein’s co-conspirators and said that “scores and scores” of women had been victimized by Epstein, calling sex trafficking “a scourge of our time” and something he wants the Justice Department review.
Epstein was arrested in July 2019 on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges for allegedly abusing girls as young as 14. An indictment alleged that he sexually exploited dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, among other locations, between 2002 and 2005, and perhaps beyond.
“The DOJ has a long way to go, and the incoming attorney general needs to make this a top priority,” Sasse told the Washington Examiner after the hearing. “Epstein had wealth, influence, and power, but our laws should be on the side of those who are abused and voiceless. The young girls who were trafficked still deserve justice, and I’m going to keep pushing the Department of Justice to hold all of Epstein’s co-conspirators accountable and to prioritize their work on human trafficking.”
Epstein was found dead at the age of 66 in his Manhattan prison cell in August 2019, which the New York City medical examiner determined to be a suicide. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz is conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death.
Acosta, who resigned as former President Donald Trump’s labor secretary in 2019 amid increased scrutiny of the Epstein deal he helped orchestrate as the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida, reached the agreement with Epstein’s attorneys, including Harvard law professor and one of the defense lawyers in Trump’s first Senate impeachment trial Alan Dershowitz, that allowed their client to plead guilty to two state-level prostitution solicitation charges related to a 17-year-old girl. This allowed Epstein to dodge a slew of serious federal charges. As a part of the deal, Epstein served just 13 months in a Palm Beach County jail.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility’s executive summary “does not find that Acosta engaged in professional misconduct by resolving the federal investigation of Epstein in the way he did or that the other subjects committed professional misconduct through their implementation of Acosta’s decisions.”
“The DOJ’s crooked deal with Epstein effectively shut down investigations into his child sex trafficking ring and protected his co-conspirators in other states,” Sasse said when the summary was released. “Justice has not been served. The full report needs to be released to the public.”
Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s longtime friend and on-again, off-again girlfriend, was arrested in early July and charged with conspiring with Epstein to recruit, groom, and sexually abuse underage girls, as well as perjury in depositions regarding Epstein. The British socialite has said that she “vigorously denies the charges” and pleaded not guilty. She was denied bail, and her trial is set for this year.
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