Members of Congress, furious over Jeffrey Epstein’s death in federal custody, are set on getting to the bottom of it before the many conspiracy theories swirling around the accused serial sex offender’s demise completely overshadow the facts.
They are, obviously, running far behind. By the time the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Monday demanding answers about the circumstances of Epstein’s apparent suicide, the country already had two full days to marinate in President Trump’s retweet of a conspiracy theory that former President Bill Clinton was somehow to blame.
Beyond Trump, political and media figures on the right and left have been openly entertaining on social media every idea from foul play being involved to the death having been faked altogether since the news of Epstein’s demise broke on Saturday.
“Where you have few facts, you have much speculation,” said Rep. Al Green (D-TX). “If we don’t get facts before the people… we will find ourselves dealing with speculation about what happened in that cell.”
The challenge now for Congress is to chart a path forward for an investigation that will answer key questions and establish a factual record, without veering into partisan turf—a tall order, given that two U.S. presidents, royalty, and prominent political and business figures have been linked to Epstein, fueling the conspiracy chatter.
Recently unsealed court filings revealed that Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre claimed that the financier’s close associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, directed her as a minor to have sex with former Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson and Prince Andrew of Great Britain. Both Trump and Clinton, meanwhile, have flown on Epstein’s private jet.
In their Monday letter, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA) gave the Bureau of Prisons until Aug. 21 to answer nearly two dozen questions surrounding Epstein’s custody and death. Many of them focus on discovering how Epstein, who was placed on and then taken off suicide watch at the Metropolitan Corrections Center in New York, was in a situation where he could take his own life. They ask who in the federal government was notified that Epstein’s suicide watch had terminated, for example, in addition to what plan was in place to observe him and who was meant to do so.
But plenty of lawmakers are already demanding much more investigative firepower. Green, for his part, told The Daily Beast the Epstein case warrants a federal fact-finding effort on par with the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Texas Democrat has written to Trump asking him to appoint a special investigator to head up such a probe; he has also requested that House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) open up an investigation.
While the Judiciary Committee oversees federal prisons, the Oversight Committee’s broad jurisdiction has prompted members to call on Cummings not only to investigate Epstein’s death but also his criminal conduct and others who may have been implicated in it. Spokespeople for Cummings did not respond to requests for comment about the chairman’s plans.
Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), who represents many of Epstein’s victims in the Palm Beach area where he owned a mansion, called for a wide-ranging Oversight investigation. “I’m calling for the House Oversight and Reform Committee to begin an investigation so we can get answers to many questions, like why the U.S. Attorney’s Office entered into such a lenient non-prosecution plea deal and who was given immunity,” she said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Additionally, there needs to be a forum for Epstein’s victims to be heard if they so desire.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), another member of the Oversight panel, told The Daily Beast he will urge Cummings to open up an Epstein probe and appoint a special counsel who has dealt with similar cases before.
“We need to understand whether it was suicide or whether there was any foul play,” said Khanna. And, he added, “we need to make sure nothing was done to impede the investigation and expose anyone who may be involved in a criminal scheme of sex trafficking.”
Entities within the Trump administration have already said they will be investigating the circumstances of Epstein’s death. On Saturday, Attorney General William Barr said the FBI and the Department of Justice’s internal watchdogs would be on the case.
To Democrats, Barr’s role only makes congressional involvement more urgent. “Bill Barr has covered up administration wrongdoing since Iran-Contra,” said Khanna. “After what he did with the Mueller Report, I don’t think anyone on the Democratic side trusts him.”