Attorney-General William Barr says he initially had his own suspicions about financier Jeffrey Epstein’s death while behind bars at one of the most secure jails in America but came to conclude his suicide was the result of “a perfect storm of screw-ups”.
Barr told the Associated Press his concerns were prompted by the numerous irregularities at the Manhattan jail where Epstein was being held.
However, he said after the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector-general continued to investigate, he realised a “series” of mistakes gave Epstein the chance to take his own life.
“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,” Barr told the AP as he flew to Montana for an event.
Barr’s comments come days after two correctional officers who were responsible for guarding the wealthy financier when he died were charged with falsifying prison records.
Officers Tova Noel and Michael Thomas are accused of sleeping and browsing the internet – shopping for furniture and motorcycles – instead of watching Epstein, who was supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes.
Epstein took his own life in August while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused girls as young as 14 and young women in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.
His death cast a spotlight on the federal Bureau of Prisons, which has been plagued by chronic staffing shortages and outbreaks of violence.
The indictment unsealed this week against the officers shows a damning glimpse of safety lapses inside a high-security unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.
But the indictment also provided new details that reinforce the idea that, for all the intrigue regarding Epstein and his connections to powerful people, his death was a suicide – as the city’s medical examiner concluded – and possibly preventable.
A lawyer for Thomas, Montell Figgins, said both guards were being “scapegoated”.
Barr sought to dampen conspiracy theories over whether Epstein really took his own life, saying the evidence proves Epstein killed himself and he personally reviewed security footage that confirmed that no one entered the area where Epstein was housed on the night he died.
Barr said federal prosecutors in New York were making good progress while they continued to investigate the allegations against Epstein.
He said he was hopeful people “will see results soon”.