WASHINGTON — Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer testified Tuesday that the FBI is investigating the possibility of a “criminal enterprise” when it comes to Jeffrey Epstein’s death in custody.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sawyer also said she’s not aware of evidence that would contradict the coroner’s finding of suicide. But she noted the FBI and inspector general both have ongoing investigations into the matter.
Sawyer said those ongoing investigations limit what she could say about the case at the moment.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and a member of the committee, said that was “crazy” given that Epstein was found dead in his cell in mid-August and Thanksgiving is approaching.
“You’ve got a whole bunch of women who were raped by this guy,” Sasse told her. “This is a sex trafficking ring in the United States. This guy had evidence. He’s got co-conspirators, and there are victims out there who want to know where the evidence has gone.”
That Epstein was on suicide watch and still able to hang himself has contributed to speculation about whether his death might have actually been a homicidal cover-up to protect those co-conspirators.
Two jail guards were recently arrested, accused of falsifying records to indicate they had checked on Epstein when they had not.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Sasse noted that Sawyer was pulled out of retirement to run the bureau in the wake of Epstein’s death.
“You’re in your job because of this crisis, right?” Sasse said. “You come here today and you say you can’t testify about it, but the reason you’re director now is because the last guy got fired, right?”
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Sawyer seemed exasperated herself at the repeated questions and referred time and again to the ongoing investigations. Staff are prevented from discussing what happened or even seeing the evidence involved until such probes are completed, she said.
Sawyer said she would be happy to share all the information once those investigations are done.
“But until I have that information, there’s nothing I can tell you,” she told Sasse. “If I don’t have the information, I cannot share anything with you.”
Earlier in the hearing, Sawyer said every one of the inmates is treated equally, but Sasse suggested Epstein should have received higher priority.
“This is different,” Sasse said. “Because it isn’t just about the individual inmate who might kill themselves. It’s about the fact that that bastard wasn’t able to testify against his other co-conspirators.”
After finding his questions rebuffed, Sasse took a different approach and asked how many people are sleeping on the job when they should be guarding federal inmates.
“We have a few, sir,” Sawyer replied.
She said most prison staff members are good employees, and she’s working to root out those who are not.
“If someone is well-trained, well-experienced and chooses not to do their job, we want them gone,” she said. “I assure you of that.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., followed Sasse and asked whether any policies have been changed as a result of Epstein’s death.
Sawyer responded that their policies are sound, and the issue is staff not following those policies.
She suggested personnel issues contributed to the situation, because the prison population has grown faster than staffing could increase.
“We grew so big with so few staff that we were stretched to our limits,” she said.
Joseph Morton is The World-Herald Washington Bureau Chief. Morton joined The World-Herald in 1999 and has been reporting from Washington for the newspaper since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @MortonOWH. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org