Why William Barr recused himself from Jeffrey Epstein case

Attorney General William Barr may have oversight over U.S. attorneys in New York, but he has announced that he is recusing himself from the Jeffrey Epstein case.

Barr revealed his recusal to reporters as he traveled in South Carolina Monday, the same day that Epstein was indicted by the Southern District of New York for alleged sex trafficking of underage girls.

The attorney general cited a potential conflict because of a “long ago” connection to a law firm that represented the 66-year-old billionaire financier and registered sex offender who was arrested Saturday and charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors.

“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,” Barr told reporters Monday.

Epstein pleaded not guilty in federal court Monday afternoon after federal prosecutors alleged that between 2002 and 2005, the hedge fund manager had “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations.”

The legal team that represented Epstein in 2008 included Kirkland & Ellis’s Jay Lefkowitz, former independent counsel Ken Starr, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, former U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis, as well as Roy Black and Gerald Lefcourt.

With Barr recusing himself because of his work at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, new deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, would normally be assumed to be taking over the oversight of the case. However, Rosen also once worked at the same law firm.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, the former Florida U.S. Attorney at the tine of Epstein’s case who helped him secure the infamous plea deal that saw him sentenced to only 13 months in prison, is also a Kirkland & Ellis veteran.

Another potential conflict for Barr, although he did not mention it to reporters, is that his father once hired a then-20-year-old Epstein to teach calculus and physics when he was headmaster of the Dalton School, the Daily Mail reported.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska had questioned Barr about the Epstein case during his confirmation hearing at the beginning of the year.

“On this particular case, will you commit to making sure that there is a full and thorough investigation into the way that DOJ handled the Epstein case?” Sasse asked Barr before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January.

(Video: C-SPAN via Miami Herald)

“Senator, I have to recuse myself from Kirkland & Ellis matters, I am told,” said Barr. “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.”

“It’s not clear who is actually going to deconflict this,” Sasse responded to Barr’s potential recusal and the exit of  then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “So I’m grateful for your pledge that the department will be responsive even if not you personally.”


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