WASHINGTON – Merrick Garland, the nominee to become the country’s law enforcement officer as attorney general, called the treatment of alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein “horrendous,” but said he couldn’t comment on why the Justice Department acted the way it did.
Epstein, who died by suicide in jail, was indicted in 2019 for sexually exploiting and abusing dozens of minor girls at his homes in New York and Florida. Federal prosecutors in New York alleged that for years, Epstein paid some of his victims to recruit more underage girls.
But the charges came years after former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta resolved a sex-crimes case through a non-prosecution deal without notifying his alleged victims. A Justice Department investigation found Acosta showed “poor judgment,” but Acosta said the review debunked allegations he cut a “sweetheart deal.”
Acosta, who had become President Donald Trump’s labor secretary, was forced to resign.
From the archive:The death of Jeffrey Epstein: Fact, fiction, confusion and a warden reassigned
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said Epstein evaded charges for years and then “infuriatingly” was allowed to die by suicide in federal detention despite officials knowing he was at risk. He asked Garland where the department went wrong.
“This is horrendous,” Garland said. “He obviously should have been vigorously prosecuted earlier. I don’t know why” he wasn’t.”
Epstein’s death prompted outrage from victims, federal authorities and even Congress. Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled” – and angered. The FBI and the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General are among agencies probing the incident.