WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Kennedy wants more information released publicly about the circumstances of Jeffrey Epstein’s death, alluding during a Senate hearing to a conspiracy theory that the wealthy sex offender might not have killed himself.
“Christmas ornaments, drywall and Epstein — Name three things that don’t hang themselves. That’s what the American people think," Kennedy quipped during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday with the head of the federal Bureau of Prisons. "They deserve some answers.”
Epstein, a 66-year-old New York financier, was facing federal charges related to sex trafficking of minors when he was found dead in a New York federal detention facility in August.
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Authorities have dismissed theories that Epstein was killed by someone else in his cell, and a medical examiner ruled he died by suicide. A federal indictment released Tuesday that details activity around Epstein's cell the night of his death also appears to challenge the theory about foul play, but skepticism has flourished.
Kennedy is now the second Republican in Congress to directly acknowledge speculation that Epstein's death may have been the result of foul play.
In a series of consecutive tweets last week, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, using the first letter of each post, spelled out: “E-P-S-T-E-I-N D-I-D-N-T K-I-L-L H-I-M-S-E-L-F.”
But just hours before the Judiciary hearing, the U.S. Justice Department released documents that conclude “no one entered the area in which Epstein was housed” the night of his death, based on surveillance footage, aside from two officers who briefly visited the common area in the secured unit earlier in the evening.
.@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."Full video here: https://t.co/Ku68U52JAV pic.twitter.com/0DDiQYgVHh— CSPAN (@cspan) November 19, 2019
“No one conducted any counts or rounds throughout the night,” the Justice Department revealed in its timeline, released with indictments of two officers on duty at the time of Epstein’s death who didn’t check on the inmate for hours.
Federal correctional officers Tova Noel and Michael Thomas have pleaded not guilty to the counts of making false records and conspiring to make false records. They are accused of falsifying documents to cover up that they had not made the required stops to check on Epstein, even though he had been identified as a potential suicide risk after an apparent earlier attempt in late July shortly after his arrest.
Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting an underage girl for prostitution in Florida in 2008. Renewed attention on the case and other women who claim they had been sexually abused led to his arrest on additional counts in New York in July.
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Kathleen Sawyer, the Bureau of Prisons director, testified in the Senate hearing that the Inspector General and the FBI are also investigating the circumstances of Epstein’s death, but she told Kennedy and other curious lawmakers that she has no direct involvement in the investigation and couldn't speak to Epstein's specific circumstances.
Kennedy argued Sawyer’s still in a position to share a message from the senators about the seriousness of the case.
“I need you to take a very respectful message (to them): 'Tell the American people what happened,'" Kennedy said. "Don’t rush it so that they don’t do a thorough investigation, but you and I both know they can make this a top priority and get it done more quickly than they normally would. They need to do that.”
About half a million people have been added to the state's Medicaid rolls through the expansion, which applies to adults whose household income falls below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Sawyer replied, “I want the investigations completed as soon as possible too.”
According to federal prosecutors, the officers, Noel and Thomas, were caught on video sleeping on the job part of the night Epstein died.
“There are lots of people in the public who think this is a convenient excuse,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, also questioned the circumstances of Epstein’s death.
“With a case this high-profile, there’s got to be major malfunction in the system or a criminal enterprise afoot to allow this to happen,” he said.