Attorney General William P. Barr will not recuse himself from the federal prosecution of multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein in New York, but he will remain uninvolved in “any retrospective review” of Epstein’s previous plea deal in Florida, a senior Justice Department official said Tuesday.
Barr had telegraphed at his confirmation hearing in January that he might have to step aside from any Justice Department reviews of Epstein’s case, because another lawyer at his then-firm, Kirkland & Ellis, had represented the wealthy financier. The other lawyer, Jay P. Lefkowitz, helped secure a plea deal for Epstein in 2008 that has been widely criticized as being too lenient, in that it allowed Epstein to spend just 13 months in jail in Florida, with work release privileges, to resolve allegations that he abused dozens of young girls.
The split nature of Barr’s recusal suggests that federal prosecutors in New York — who unsealed new sex trafficking charges against Epstein on Monday — might not be investigating authorities’ handling of the previous allegations.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has been reviewing the handling of Epstein’s 2008 plea deal for possible misconduct, and Barr is recused from that. But the senior Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Barr will not be recused from the prosecution in New York.
“Due to his prior association with Kirkland & Ellis, the attorney general has and will remain recused from any retrospective review of the resolution of the earlier SDFL matter,” the official said. “After consulting with career ethics officials at the department, the attorney general will not recuse from the current SDNY matter.”
SDFL is an acronym for the Southern District of Florida, where Epstein reached his previous plea. SDNY is an acronym for the Southern District of New York, where the U.S. attorney’s office brought the current charges.
Epstein is a well-connected money man with ties to former president Bill Clinton and President Trump. His case has drawn significant attention for the generous plea deal he previously received, which his victims have alleged was a result of his wealth, connections and high-powered legal defense team, including Lefkowitz, Barr’s former colleague.
The Miami Herald reported that Lefkowitz had a one-on-one meeting with then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta — who supervised the Florida case and is now Trump’s labor secretary — at which Acosta agreed not to prosecute Epstein in federal court.
Asked at his confirmation hearing whether he would investigate the handling of the Epstein case, Barr said he had been advised to recuse himself from matters that involved Kirkland & Ellis and added: “I need to sort out exactly what my role can be.”
Federal prosecutors in New York have taken a far more aggressive tack than those in Florida did years ago, hauling Epstein off his private jet Saturday after it landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and bringing charges that could result in a 45-year prison sentence. Epstein has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody, with a bail hearing scheduled for Monday.
In a series of tweets Tuesday, Acosta defended his handling of the case and suggested prosecutors in New York had material that was not available to him.
“The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence,” Acosta said. “With the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator. Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”