By Keelan Balderson is a UK-based journalist interested in security services, and misuse of state power. Follow his work at @altnewsuk.
By Kit Klarenberg, an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg
Documents released to RT investigative unit The Detail under Freedom of Information laws have revealed how, in the days following the mysterious death of Jeffrey Epstein, US Bureau of Prison officials struggled to get their story straight on his alleged suicide.
Simultaneously, they were using the opportunity to wage a PR war, flooding the media with potentially false narratives about his death, many of which persist to this day.
Early on the morning of August 10, 2019, Metropolitan Correctional Center guards found Epstein unresponsive in his jail cell, where he was awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges. He was then rushed to hospital, before being pronounced dead at 6:39 am.
The declassified records analyzed by The Detail show that, for reasons unclear, it wasn’t until almost an hour-and-a-half later that BoP officials informed the Department of Justice (DOJ) that Epstein had been taken to hospital after another apparent suicide attempt.
An internal email, from 7:52am, notes receipt of the grave news – “no other information was provided” though, and the BoP pledged to “update us as more info becomes available.” Of course, by this time he was long dead.
Cut to three hours later, and Justice officials were receiving “increasingly frantic calls” from Epstein’s lawyers, as they were “seeing information in the press” that they and the DOJ itself weren’t party to.
“We need to know as soon as possible the very basic facts such as time and cause of death at the absolute minimum. It has now been hours since this was reported publicly,” a DOJ official pleaded in an email to prison officers.
“Please advise when we can expect to receive either a written report on those basic facts or when we can have a call to get that information to relay to his counsel. It is extraordinarily frustrating to have to tell them that we have less information than the press.”
The Justice Department grew very rapidly more infuriated, with one official angrily declaring it was “frankly unbelievable” that public press releases were being issued related to Epstein’s death containing information that wasn’t being shared privately, especially given US marshals were unable to reach the BoP.
One reason for this wall of silence may well have been its staffers spending so much time fielding media requests.
Among the files is a volley of requests for comment from major news outlets, including the Daily Beast and TMZ. Detailed questions, such as whether Epstein was being monitored, whether he was alone in the cell, and what he used to hang himself were ignored.
However, almost immediately the Correctional Center, and BoP in turn, began pushing the line that the billionaire had committed suicide, before any internal or external investigation had taken place.
Official statements released to the media later that day hint at this, and state the FBI was investigating the “incident” – though, oddly, no mention of the Bureau’s probe is made in a similar statement issued to Epstein’s representatives.
What came of this isn’t clear, and indeed it’s a facet rather forgotten today – despite in November 2019 it being widely reported that the FBI had grounds to consider potential “criminal enterprise” in Epstein’s death.
While the world’s media began running as one with the suicide story, a statement was also issued to New York courts and senior judges, which states rightly and clearly that “there are no preliminary reports identifying the exact cause of death,” and “an autopsy is pending.”
Rather ironically, BoP officials themselves were clearly flummoxed by how much information damaging to the suicide narrative was leaking from the Correctional Center to the media.
On the evening of August 10, its chief Hugh Hurwitz circulated a Breitbart article – itself based on a Reuters piece – published earlier that day reporting how the guards charged with keeping an eye on Epstein had failed to conduct regular 30-minute checks on the inmate, contrary to standard procedures.
“How do they have this info? Unbelievable,” Hurwitz lamented.
It was indeed an extraordinary scoop, which wasn’t officially confirmed until several days later, when the two guards in question were charged with falsifying log records to cover the fact they’d spent substantial portions of their shift browsing the internet and sleeping, among other derelictions of their basic duties. If the source of the leak was ever identified, the released papers do not record this.
The pair were charged, but on December 13, 2021, they were allowed to go free – a development not publicized until two-and-a-half weeks later, coincidentally the day after Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty of recruiting and trafficking young girls for sexual abuse by Epstein. Hurwitz was dismissed from his post nine days after Epstein’s death, although he was simply moved elsewhere within the BoP.
In any event, the Metropolitan Correctional Center continued leaking sensitive information like a sieve, much to the chagrin of senior BoP officials. For example, on August 12, Hurwitz again expressed consternation over media reporting, when CNN reported that one of the officers on Epstein’s unit was not a “full-fledged” correctional officer. Quite why this particular snippet so riled the director is unclear.
Still, one can only imagine the apoplexy and panic that erupted throughout the agency when on August 15 the Washington Post reported, based on sources familiar with Epstein’s autopsy, that several bones in his neck, including the hyoid, were broken, which is “more common in victims of homicide by strangulation” than hanging.
This understandably led to a flurry of press requests for a copy of the autopsy report. The BoP took an extremely tough line, with an internal public affairs memo warning all staff, “Definitely do NOT respond to any reporters on this.”
All that was offered in response to these inquiries was a generic statement from Attorney General William P. Barr, assuring that an investigation would be opened.
Any anxieties in the BoP were no doubt assuaged the very next day though, when Chief Medical Examiner Barbara Sampson announced that Epstein’s death had indeed been a suicide.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, hired by Epstein’s billionaire brother to monitor his autopsy, challenged that ruling. He told the Miami Herald two months later that the pathologist who conducted the autopsy initially “had trouble” determining that Epstein hanged himself before this ruling was made concrete for reasons that have never been explained.
Baden – who has conducted over 20,000 autopsies – recorded how Epstein was found “stone-cold dead,” yet guards didn’t photograph the scene, instead calling emergency services, allowing federal authorities in breach of established protocol to “[rush] the body out of the jail, which they shouldn’t do because that destroys the evidence.”
He confirmed that Epstein suffered numerous fractures in his neck far more consistent with homicidal strangulation than hanging. Indeed, never before had the forensic pathologist encountered such breakages in a hanging victim over the course of his 50-year career.
Baden expanded on these allegations in January 2020 in an extensive interview with 60 Minutes, questioning how Epstein – almost six-feet tall and weighing 185 pounds – could hang himself from the lower bunk, and why he didn’t use other materials in the cell as a ligature, such as wires or tubing from a sleep apnea machine, which were stronger and longer. Baden also noted that photos taken after the death showed bottles and medicine mysteriously left standing upright on the top bunk.
As of January 2022, almost a year-and-a-half later, Epstein’s death remains an enduring mystery – if anything, the truth of what happened that fateful morning seems further away now than it did then.
At the very least though, this series of articles has exposed the rampant corruption at the heart of the BoP and the Metropolitan Correctional Center, and the illimitable willingness of individuals within both institutions to obfuscate and spin tales large and small to further their own agendas.