Attorney General William Barr said Monday there were "serious irregularities" at the federal jail in New York where Jeffrey Epstein died in an apparent suicide.
"I was appalled and frankly angry to learn of the (Metropolitan Correctional Center's) failure to adequately secure this prisoner," Barr said in a speech to a law enforcement group in New Orleans.
"We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation."
Barr, whose department oversees federal prison and jail facilities like the Metropolitan Correctional Center, has received harsh criticism from some lawmakers in the wake of Epstein's death, which is now under investigation by the FBI and Department of Justice Inspector General's Office.
"This sex trafficking case was very important to DOJ and me personally," Barr said. "FBI and office of DOJ IG will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability."
Barr's remarks came two days after Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell at the federal detention center in lower Manhattan. Multiple law enforcement officials said Epstein appeared to have hanged himself, but an initial autopsy was inconclusive.
Epstein, 66, was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, even though he was found in his cell two weeks ago with marks on his neck, multiple people familiar with the investigation said.
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The wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker was instead returned to a special housing unit, where the guidelines call for corrections officers to check on inmates every 30 minutes.
But "a number of hours" elapsed between checks of Epstein's cell, according to an administration official familiar with the matter. The precise time gap between checks is still not clear, the official said.
The official said Epstein's cellmate was released Friday and was not replaced, which violates Bureau of Prisons protocols for that unit in the facility.
The official added that Deputy FBI Director Michael Bowdich is briefing Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen on the case every three hours or so and that both the FBI and the Justice Department's inspector general are devoting a substantial amount of manpower to the case.
Epstein's lawyers visited him Friday until about 6:30 p.m. and said he was mentally and emotionally stable, according to a person familiar with the case. The lawyers were urging prison officials to move him to the general population where he would have had more freedom, the person said.
Epstein's lawyers didn't immediately return a request for comment.
The Metropolitan Correctional Center, also known as the MCC, has been wracked with a staffing shortage that has led to secretaries and case managers being pulled in to do the work of corrections officers, according to an official with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council of Prison Locals 33, a union.
The facility is down 38 corrections officers, the official said, forcing those on duty to work double and even triple shifts to fill in the gaps.
"I have not seen anything like this. It is ludicrous," the union official said. "They are running these prisons with practically no staffing."
Epstein's death prompted strong condemnations from a bipartisan cast of lawmakers.
"Every single person in the Justice Department — from your Main Justice headquarters staff all the way to the night-shift jailer — knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn't be allowed to die with him," Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a letter to Barr.
"Given Epstein's previous attempted suicide, he should have been locked in a padded room under unbroken, 24/7, constant surveillance. Obviously, heads must roll."
Epstein had pleaded not guilty to charges of trafficking and sexually abusing girls as young as 14 in the early 2000s.
In his remarks, Barr insisted that the probe will continue.
"Let me assure you that case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein," Barr said. "Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. Victims deserve justice and will get it."