Plot Twist: Barr Says He Isn’t Recused from Jeffrey Epstein’s Federal Case

After the Jeffrey Epstein child sex trafficking indictment was unsealed on Monday in the Southern District of New York, Attorney General William Barr told reporters “I’m recused from that matter because one of the law firms that represented Epstein long ago was a firm that I subsequently joined for a period of time.” Apparently by “that matter” he meant the review of Epstein’s Florida case.

Barr on Tuesday followed up on his Monday statement by saying that he is actually not recusing himself from the SDNY’s Epstein probe, just the review of Epstein’s Florida case.

The reaction to this has been pretty fast and furious.

During January confirmation hearings Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) asked Barr if he would commit to launching a “full and thorough investigation” into the way the Department of Justice handled the Epstein case, namely how Epstein’s law-breaking sweetheart deal came to be struck and kept under lock and key. At the time, Barr was said it was his understanding that he could not be involved in the review of the Epstein plea deal.

“Senator, I have to recuse myself from Kirkland & Ellis matters, I am told. And I think Kirkland & Ellis was maybe involved in that case, so I need to sort out exactly what my role can be. I will say that if I’m confirmed I’ll make sure your questions are answered on this case,” Barr said.

Barr repeated that thinking on Monday, but it was assumed that he meant all Epstein matters. A DOJ official said that Barr has consulted with career ethics officials and decided not to recuse himself from the SDNY probe,  just any “retrospective review” of Epstein’s 2008 case. 

In SDNY, Epstein was accused of sexually exploiting and abusing dozens of minor girls–both at his Palm Beach, Florida and Manhattan, New York homes–from around 2002 to 2005. SDNY prosecutors alleged that Epstein “worked and conspired with others, including employees and associates who facilitated his conduct.” Authorities said that Epstein recruited victims as young as 14 and would “typically masturbate during […] sexualized encounters”at his Manhattan residence, where there was a room with a massage table.

Much of the outcry about Barr’s involvement in the Epstein case can be traced to distrust. Since Barr became AG, he has oft been accused of acting like President Donald Trump‘s personal attorney, rather than the Attorney General of the United States (see: the handling of the Mueller Report).

The president distanced himself from Epstein on Tuesday, claiming that they had a falling out more than a decade ago and haven’t spoken for 15 years.

“I wasn’t a fan,” Trump said. Trump, however, was photographed with Epstein on numerous occasions in the past, and was even quoted praising Epstein as a “terrific guy” who was “a lot of fun to be with.” He also noted that Epstein liked “beautiful women,” many of whom were “on the younger side.”

“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump said of Epstein in a 2002 interview. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.” Epstein was also connected to Bill Clinton and other powerful men.

Another source of distrust with Barr can be traced to a bizarre fact: Barr’s deceased father, Donald Barr, once hired Esptein decades ago to teach teens at the prestigious Dalton School. Donald Barr was the headmaster at the school from 1964-1974. Epstein, a college dropout, taught calculus and physics at the elite Manhattan school from 1973-1975.

Questions were immediately raised about how that “strange” hiring came to occur.

Law&Crime asked New York University Law School Professor and legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers on Monday for his take on the Donald Barr-Esptein connection. He said that William Barr would have to recuse himself due that connection if there was “a reasonable possibility that the prosecution of Epstein could lead to disclosures that would harm Donald Barr’s reputation.”

“The fact that Epstein was a college dropout is not by itself important here,” Gillers said. “Some college dropouts have a lot to teach — Bill Gates? Mark Zuckerberg? What’s important is whether the case might produce information that does damage to Donald’s reputation, damage that Bill Barr would wish to suppress. If there is a reasonable possibility that it might, Bill Barr is recused.”

[Image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty/Images]

Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.

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