The Bureau of Prisons chief on Tuesday told senators the FBI is investigating whether a “criminal enterprise” was involved in Jeffrey Epstein’s death.
Kathleen Sawyer, whose agency oversees federal prisons, made the admission during testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“With a case this high profile, there has got to be either a major malfunction of the system or criminal enterprise at foot to allow this to happen. So are you looking at both? Is the FBI looking at both?” asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.
“The FBI is involved and they are looking at criminal enterprise, yes,” Sawyer responded.
Epstein, 66, a well-connected money manager, was found unresponsive in his cell on Aug. 10 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center while awaiting trial on charges of sex-trafficking girls as young as 14 years old. New York City Medical Examiner Barbara Sampson on Aug. 16 ruled Epstein’s death a suicide by hanging.
Graham wasn’t the only Republican to question Sawyer about the official determination of suicide.
Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana demanded that she “tell the American people what happened” to Epstein on her watch.
“Christmas ornaments, drywall, and [Jeffrey] Epstein — name three things that don’t hang themselves. That’s what the American people think,” Kennedy quipped. “And they deserve some answers.”
.@Senjohnkennedy: “Christmas ornaments, drywall and Jeffrey Epstein – name three things that don’t hang themselves. That’s what the American people think…and they deserve some answers."
— CSPAN (@cspan) November 19, 2019
Was a criminal enterprise involved in the death of Jeffrey Epstein?
Later in the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called Epstein’s death “a moment that shocked this country.”
“There were powerful men who wanted Jeffrey Epstein silenced,” he noted, before saying he sees “two — and only two — possibilities for what happened.”
“No. 1, there was gross negligence and a total failure of BOP to do its job with a prisoner on suicide watch that led to Epstein committing suicide,” he said. “Or No. 2, something far worse happened, that it was not suicide but rather a homicide carried out by a person or persons who wanted Epstein silenced. Either one of those is completely unacceptable. Both of those are profound indictments of BOP and our federal incarceration system.”
“Let’s take the more damning of the scenarios. Based on the evidence of which you are aware, is there any indication that Jeffrey Epstein’s death was a homicide?” Cruz asked Sawyer.
“Based upon the evidence that I am aware, no, but as I’ve already told the committee, it is still being investigated by the FBI and the Inspector General’s Office,” she said.
While Sawyer was being questioned, news broke that jail officers Tova Noel and Michael Thomas were charged for falsifying records to cover up their failure to check in on Epstein in the hours before he died. The alleged coverup is just one of a series of apparent breaches of protocol when it comes to Epstein’s incarceration.
Asked by Cruz about the indictment of the two guards, Sawyer said, “They do not represent the vast majority of the 35,000 employees across the Bureau of Prisons. Most of our staff are very high quality, good people doing the right thing. And you are right, this incident was a black eye on the entire Bureau of Prisons.”
However, she acknowledged: “We have some bad staff. We want rid of those bad staff who don’t do their job. We want them gone, one way or another, either by prosecution or by termination.”
Like the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons is part of the Justice Department. Epstein’s death has drawn attention to years of systematic failures at the agency, from massive staffing shortages to chronic violence.