After Attorney General William Barr initially recused himself over conflicts of interest from federal sex trafficking cases involving Jeffrey Epstein, Barr now says he has no such conflicts in a New York case filed Monday, while he will remain recused from review of a previous case against Epstein in Florida.
Justice Department officials said Tuesday that Barr had consulted with ethics officials and would not recuse himself from the newly filed case against Epstein in the Southern District of New York. Barr, however, will remain recused from retroactively examining the handling of a federal case brought against Epstein in Florida a decade ago on similar charges. In the 2008 case, Epstein was granted a sweetheart deal by a team of federal prosecutors led by current Labor Secretary Alex Acosta in which Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to state prostitution charges even though he had allegedly sexually abused dozens of underaged girls.
Barr originally told reporters in South Carolina Monday that he was recused from the entire Epstein “matter” because Epstein had hired lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis, a law firm where Barr was later hired to work.
“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 said during a press conference.
But legal observers skewered the notion that Barr could draw some sort of meaningful distinction between the two cases. “The line being drawn here makes no sense,” tweeted former SDNY federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah. “This is very concerning.”
Former Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller had a similar reaction. “Huh?” he tweeted. “The two cases are inextricably bound together. The second is by its very nature a repudiation of the first.”
Donald Barr, hired Epstein decades ago to teach teens at the prestigious Dalton School. Donald Barr was the headmaster at the school from 1964-1974. Epstein, a college dropout, taught calculus and physics at the elite Manhattan school from 1973-1975.