Senator appears to nod to Epstein conspiracy theories during hearing

WASHINGTON — The director of the federal Bureau of Prisons was urged Tuesday to push for quicker results in the investigations of the death of Jeffrey Epstein, given what one senator said was public skepticism that Epstein died by suicide.

"Christmas ornaments, drywall, and Jerry [sic] Epstein,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA. “Name three things that don't hang themselves. That's what the American people think, and they deserve some answers."

Both the FBI and the inspector general of the Justice Department are investigating Epstein's death. His body was found the morning of August 10 at the Metropolitan Corrections Center in New York where he was awaiting trial on charges of sexually assaulting young women. The medical examiner concluded that the cause was suicide. Two correctional officers were charged Tuesday with failing to perform the required checks on Epstein during the previous night.

A grand jury indictment said Michael Thomas and Tova Noel instead stayed mostly at their desks, surfing the Internet and falling asleep for roughly two hours. When Epstein's body was discovered, Noel told a supervisor "Epstein hung himself" and Thomas said, "We messed up" and "We didn't do any rounds," according to the indictment.

Prisons director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer said she was not told in advance of the charges. "If there's any misconduct, we don't want people like that working in the Bureau of Prisons. They do not represent the vast majority of the 35,000 employees."

Sawyer told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that she has seen nothing to suggest that Epstein's death was the result of anything other than suicide. Asked if there was any evidence to suggest otherwise, she said no. But she declined to answer other questions about the suicide, explaining that she is barred from reviewing the evidence or talking to prison staff about the death while the investigations are underway.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-NE, harshly criticized the Bureau for allowing Epstein to die by suicide then saying it can't comment publicly about what happened.

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NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against billionaire financier Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 08: Two of the purported victims of multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Michelle Licata (L) and Courtney Wild leave a Manhattan court house after a hearing on sex trafficking charges for financier Jeffrey Epstein on July 08, 2019 in New York City. Epstein is charged with having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Two of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims, Michelle Licata (L) and Courtney Wild (R), exit the courthouse after the billionaire financier appeared for a hearing on July 8, 2019 in New York City. According to reports, Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, center, sits with attorneys Martin Weinberg, left, and Marc Fernich during his arraignment in New York federal court, Monday, July 8, 2019. Epstein pleaded not guilty to federal sex trafficking charges. The 66-year-old is accused of creating and maintaining a network that allowed him to sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls from 2002 to 2005. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
NEW YORK, US - JULY 08: David Boies, attorney for the alleged sex victims of the US financier Jeffreey Epstein case, delivers a speech to the media outside the United States Federal Court on July 08, 2019 in New York, United States. (Photo by Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: A residence belonging to Jeffrey Epstein at East 71st street is seen on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on July 8, 2019 in New York City. According to reports, Epstein is charged with running a sex-trafficking operation out of his opulent mansion. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Prosecutors exit the room after US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Member of the press listen as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: A protest group called "Hot Mess" hold up signs of Jeffrey Epstein and President Donald Trump in front of the Federal courthouse on July 8, 2019 in New York City. According to reports, Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a news conference, in New York, Monday, July 8, 2019. Federal prosecutors announced sex trafficking and conspiracy charges against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. Court documents unsealed Monday show Epstein is charged with creating and maintaining a network that allowed him to sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
In this courtroom sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, second from right, listens along with defense attorneys, from left, Marc Fernich, Michael Miller, and Martin Weinberg as Judge Richard M. Berman denies him bail during a hearing in federal court, Thursday, July 18, 2019 in New York. Judge Berman denied bail for the jailed financier on sex trafficking charges, saying the danger to the community that would result if the jet-setting defendant was free formed the "heart of this decision." (Aggie Kenny via AP)
FILE - This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry shows Jeffrey Epstein. A judge denied bail for jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein on sex trafficking charges Thursday, July 18, 2019, saying the danger to the community that would result if the jet-setting defendant was free formed the "heart of this decision." (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP)
In this courtroom sketch, Judge Richard M. Berman speaking as he denies Jeffrey Epstein bail during a hearing in federal court, Thursday, July 18, 2019 in New York. Judge Berman denied bail for the jailed financier on sex trafficking charges, saying the danger to the community that would result if the jet-setting defendant was free formed the "heart of this decision." (Aggie Kenny via AP)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, and his attorney Martin Weinberg listen during a bail hearing in federal court, Monday, July 15, 2019 in New York. Epstein's lawyers want him released on house arrest to his Manhattan home while he awaits trial. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
This courtroom sketch shows Judge Richard Berman as he speaks during the Jeffrey Epstein bail hearing in federal court, Monday July 15, 2019. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, listens as accuser Annie Farmer, second from right, speaks during a bail hearing in federal court, Monday, July 15, 2019 in New York. Farmer says she was 16 when she "had the misfortune" of meeting Epstein and later went to spend time with him in New Mexico. Accuser Courtney Wild, right, said in the hearing that she was abused by the wealthy financier in Palm Beach, Florida, starting at age 14. Epstein's lawyers want him released on house arrest to his Manhattan home while he awaits trial. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, and attorney Reid Weingarten, second from right, listen as attorney Martin Weinberg, right, speaks during a bail hearing in federal court, Monday, July 15, 2019 in New York. Epstein's lawyers have insisted he will not run. They want him released on house arrest to his Manhattan home while he awaits trial. Courtney Wild, third from left, said in the hearing that she was abused by the wealthy financier in Palm Beach, Florida, starting at age 14. She called him a "scary person" and urged detention "for the safety of any other girls" out there. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
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"Let's just be clear. You're in your job because of this crisis. With all due respect, you still have an obligation to speak to the girls who were raped by this guy," Sasse said.

"We believe in America that every individual has equal dignity. But not every inmate has equal value for future criminal investigations. Jeffrey Epstein was still to testify in a case. It isn't just about the individual inmate who might kill themselves, it's about the fact that that bastard wasn't able to testify his other co-conspirators."

Sawyer said the bureau has not made any major changes in policy as a result of Epstein's suicide. The policies weren't the problem, she said, it was a few employees who didn't follow the rules. Asked if there's a widespread problem of employees sleeping on the job, she said, only "a few," based on the results of reviewing cameras at the bureau's prisons nationwide.

Those instances have been referred to the Justice Department inspector general. If other employees simply refuse to do their jobs, "we want them gone one way or the other, by prosecution or termination."

Sawyer was the director of the prisons bureau from 1992 to 2003. Attorney General William Barr brought her back in August after Epstein's suicide.

CORRECTION (Nov. 19, 2019, 1:26 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the prison where Epstein died. It is the Metropolitan Correctional Center, not the Metropolitan Corrections Center.

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