Barr won’t recuse himself from new case against Jeffrey Epstein
Attorney General William Barr won’t recuse himself from involvement in the new charges filed against alleged sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein by federal prosecutors in New York, according to a Justice Department official.
Barr made the decision on Tuesday after consulting with career ethics officials at the department, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing a sensitive matter.
Barr weighed whether he would have to remove himself from involvement in the case in part because Epstein had previously hired lawyers from the law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Barr served as counsel to the law firm before becoming attorney general.
But Barr has recused himself from any retrospective review of the Justice Department’s decision more than a decade ago letting Epstein avoid prosecution on federal sex-trafficking offenses in Florida and the decades of prison time that he could have faced if convicted.
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta was the top federal prosecutor in southern Florida and approved the widely criticized deal under which Epstein was permitted to plead guilty to two state charges of soliciting a prostitute. He served 13 months in a Florida state prison while being released during the day to conduct business.
Some former federal prosecutors have expressed concern that Barr might interfere in the New York case if he didn’t recuse himself. While President Donald Trump socialized with Epstein in the past and once called him “a terrific guy,” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Tuesday that “he hasn’t talked to or had contact with Epstein in years and years and years.”
Still, Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor, wrote in an opinion column for the Daily Beast that she was concerned the attorney general may intervene in the case “given Barr’s conduct in the past acting more as a defense attorney for Trump than an overseer of justice.”
The new charges have thrust Acosta and the deal that he approved into the spotlight.
One former administration official said Acosta will face increasing pressure as more documents are revealed in the Epstein case, particularly if they shed new light on what Acosta knew at the time of the plea deal.
Acosta’s standing in the Trump administration was in peril even before the indictment of Epstein cast a fresh spotlight on the former prosecutor’s role in a decade-old plea deal for the financier, according to several people familiar with the matter.
But Conway indicated on Tuesday that the labor secretary still enjoys Trump’s support. “I would go back to who the perpetrator is here; his name is Jeffrey Epstein,” she said.
In postings on Twitter, Acosta said Tuesday, “The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence” that “offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”
Epstein wants a federal judge to find that sex-trafficking charges against him unsealed Monday in New York are pre-empted by the plea deal he struck with prosecutors in Florida.
During Epstein’s first court appearance in Manhattan, on Monday, one of his lawyers made it clear he’d use that deal as a central part of Epstein’s defense, setting up a fight that could highlight a gulf between federal prosecutors in New York and their counterparts in southern Florida.
The previous agreement was a “global resolution” that was approved at a “very, very high level” of the Justice Department, Reid Weingarten said at the hearing. He called the new allegations “ancient stuff” and said the government was trying to get a second shot at a defunct case.
With assistance from Terrence Dopp, Josh Wingrove, Jennifer Jacobs, Saleha Mohsin and Benjamin Penn.