Prominent US Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide in federal custody is provoking skepticism among online conspiracy theorists and even some officials who question how he could have killed himself in a highly secured part of the jail set aside for high-profile inmates.
Epstein, facing charges of sex trafficking, had been placed on suicide watch following an incident just over two weeks ago in which he was discovered with bruises on his neck.
But he was taken off of suicide watch at the end of July, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida suggested the possibility that a criminal act was involved in Epstein’s death when he called on federal corrections officials to explain what happened at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
“The Federal Bureau of Prisons must provide answers on what systemic failures of the MCC Manhattan or criminal acts allowed this coward to deny justice to his victims,” he said in a statement.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now an attorney for President Donald Trump, tweeted out several questions about Epstein’s death Saturday afternoon.
“Who was watching? What does camera show?... Follow the motives,” tweeted former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now an attorney for President Donald Trump.
What does the word watch mean in the phrase suicide— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) August 10, 2019
Watch? Who was watching? What does camera show? It is inconceivable Epstein could have hung himself if there was a suicide Watch? Follow the motives.
Trump, celebrities feed conspiracies after reported suicide
Elsewhere online there was unsubstantiated speculation that Epstein’s death wasn’t a suicide, or indeed that his death was faked.
Epstein, 66, had been denied bail and faced up to 45 years behind bars on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges unsealed last month. He had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial on accusations of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
Epstein was allegedly linked to a sex trafficking ring which supplied high profile people including politicians, celebrities and even royal members with underage girls.
His case had already prompted online rumours and conspiracy theories given past friendships with prominent men including Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew, as well as the 2008 deal in Florida that allowed him to plead to soliciting a minor for prostitution to avoid more serious charges.
Adding to matters, Trump on Saturday retweeted a post promoting a conspiracy theory about Jeffrey Epstein's death.
The tweet, by Twitter user Terrence K. Williams, blamed the death on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Clinton and does not provide evidence.
Political filmmaker Michael Moore was also adding fuel to the fire, casting doubt on official reports.
“I guess they think a country dumb enough to elect Trump is stupid enough to believe Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Here’s what I know about the uber-rich: They never drive themselves, they’ve never done a load of laundry, and they have no friggin’ clue how to tie a knot in a noose.”
Malignant narcissists like Epstein -- the last thing they do is get rid of the thing they LOVE the most: themselves.— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) August 10, 2019
The FBI and the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General will investigate the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death, Attorney General William Barr said.
“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” Barr said in a statement.
‘Heads must roll’ as dark secrets die with Epstein
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote in a scathing letter to Barr that "heads must roll" after the incident.
"Every single person in the Justice Department – from your Main Justice headquarters staff all the way to the night-shift jailer – knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn't be allowed to die with him," Sen Sasse wrote.
Epstein’s suicide was likely recorded by jail cameras, said Preet Bharara, the former federal prosecutor in Manhattan.
“One hopes it is complete, conclusive, and secured,” he tweeted.
Epstein case marred by controversy
Epstein’s arrest last month launched separate investigations into how authorities handled his case initially when similar charges were first brought against him in Florida more than a decade ago.
US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned last month after coming under fire for overseeing that deal when he was US attorney in Miami.
His lawyers maintained that the new charges in New York were covered by the 2008 plea deal and that Epstein hadn’t had any illicit contact with underage girls since serving his 13-month sentence in Florida.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.