Sohn: Finding accountability in Epstein death, conspiracy theories

Sohn: Finding accountability in Epstein death, conspiracy theories

August 14th, 2019 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry shows Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein has died by suicide while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges, says person briefed on the matter, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019. (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP, File)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

In the wake of Jeffrey Epstein's death, we see again just how much Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr seem to believe Americans are stupid.

On Monday, Barr criticized the federal jail, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where the disgraced financier and accused sex trafficker was incarcerated and found unresponsive in a cell on Saturday. Epstein was later pronounced dead of an apparent suicide. Authorities said Epstein hung himself.

He had tried unsuccessfully on July 23 to commit suicide and been placed on suicide watch. Mysteriously, that watch was lifted about a week later — 12 days before he died. Guards hadn't checked on Epstein for several hours before his body was found, prison personnel told reporters. In the protective unit where Epstein was housed, guards are supposed to look in on prisoners every half-hour.

This is the Jeffrey Epstein who was videoed with Donald Trump at a private party with dozens of young girls at Mar-a-Lago years ago. This is the Jeffrey Epstein whose private jets were known as the Lolita Express — jets that Bill Clinton flew on occasionally. This is the Jeffrey Epstein with a private island dubbed Orgy Island. This is the Jeffrey Epstein who a year ago told a New York Times columnist working on a Tesla-in-turmoil story that he had dirt on lots of powerful people.

Yet he dies in the dark in a federal prison on Barr's and Trump's watch.

"We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability," Barr said in remarks at a police conference on Monday. "I was appalled and frankly angry to learn of the MCC's failure to adequately secure this prisoner."

Wait, Bozo Barr — you're in charge. You're Donald Trump's attorney general. You are the overseer of the federal Department of Justice. You are the overseer of the federal prosecutors and federal prisons — including the very jail where only one of the two people guarding Epstein normally worked as a correctional officer. The other was a substitute.

You, Mr. Barr, are the overseer of the same jail where Epstein was left alone for hours. You're in charge of the jail where, as you put it, "We are now learning of serious irregularities that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation."

It's not like problems in the federal prisons should be new to Barr, who joined Trump's Cabinet on Feb. 14 and before that served as George H.W. Bush's attorney general from November 1991 until January 1993.

A New York Times investigation published last year noted that federal prisons are so strapped for correctional officers — thanks to budget cuts under the Trump administration — "that they regularly compel teachers, nurses, secretaries and other support staff members to step in."

"The practice has grown at some prisons as the Trump administration has curtailed the hiring of correctional officers," the Times noted Monday in a story about Epstein's guards.

The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment for that Times story. But union officials didn't. Those union officials said that for more than a year Washington officials had been made aware of a severe staffing shortage at the facility "in the wake of a federal hiring freeze."

A union official told the Times that one of the guards on the unit where Epstein died had been working overtime for five straight days, while the other had been forced to work overtime that day.

In yet another abnormality, Epstein, less than two weeks off of suicide watch, was housed alone. Under normal procedures, he should have had a cellmate, but the inmate housed with him had been recently transferred and had not been replaced, several officials told the Times.

It need not be repeated here that conspiracy theories abound about Epstein's death.

Trump, himself — the president, mind you — retweeted a conservative commentator's conspiratorial message suggesting the Clintons were involved.

Trump defended himself this week telling a gaggle of reporters that it was "just a retweet" and he had "no idea" whether the Clintons played a role. At that same gaggle, the president accused former President Clinton of lying about the extent of his air travel on Epstein's planes.

Next thing we know, Trump will be telling us — and some of us likely will buy it — that it wasn't him shown in that 1992 video dancing with and stroking the girls Epstein brought to the private party at Mar-a-Lago.

Forget the conspiracy theories about how and why Epstein died.

The real conspiracy is Trump and Barr thinking Americans are too dumb to understand.

Whether someone else wanted Jeffrey Epstein dead or Epstein himself wanted to die, Trump and Barr are the ones who should be held accountable for the fact that an important, albeit despicable, federal prisoner and witness died while in custody and before court testimony could be secured.

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