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AG Barr removes acting Bureau of Prisons chief in wake of Epstein suicide

The move comes just days after the wealthy financier took his own life while awaiting trial on sex charges.
Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Barr testifies at Senate Judiciary hearing on investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington
Attorney General William Barr demoted the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons on Monday, nine days after Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in a federal jail cell. Aaron Bernstein / Reuters file

Attorney General William Barr on Monday removed the acting director of the federal Bureau of Prisons in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein's suicide this month in a federal jail in Manhattan, where he was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Barr said the acting director, Hugh Hurwitz, would remain in the bureau as the assistant director of the Reentry Services Division.

Hurwitz's ouster comes nine days after Epstein, 66, the millionaire financier and accused sex trafficker, was found dead by suicide Aug. 10 in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

He was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, people familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

The center's warden, Lamine N'Diaye, has been temporarily reassigned, and the two guards assigned to watch Epstein have been placed on leave.

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The FBI and the Department of Justice are investigating how Epstein was able to take his own life. Barr has said "serious irregularities" had been found at the lockup.

Barr, in a statement Monday, said he’d appointed Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer as the bureau's new director and Dr. Thomas R. Kane as the its new deputy director. The statement makes no reference to Epstein.

"I am confident Dr. Hawk Sawyer and Dr. Kane will lead BOP with the competence, skill and resourcefulness they have embodied throughout their government careers."

Sawyer served as the bureau's chief from 1992 to 2003. She was appointed when Barr was the attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. Kane worked in several senior roles in the agency from 1977 to 2018.

At least one Republican offered modest praise following Barr's move.

"This is a good start, but it's not the end. Jeffrey Epstein should still be in a padded cell and under constant surveillance, but the justice system has failed Epstein's victims at every turn," said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who had previously demanded that "heads must roll" at the Justice Department because of the Epstein suicide.

Lawmakers and Trump administration officials have expressed outrage that Epstein could have killed himself under the noses of jailers. The disgraced financier was taken off suicide watch even though he had reportedly tried to take his own life last month, officials have said.

Epstein's death came the day after a trove of court documents was unsealed, providing new details about his alleged sex trafficking.

He was arrested July 6 at an airport in Teterboro, New Jersey, as he returned from Paris on a private jet. He was charged with one count of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking, and faced up to 45 years in prison if found guilty. He pleaded not guilty and was denied bail.

The indictment in his case showed that he sought out minors, some as young as 14, from at least 2002 through 2005 and paid them hundreds of dollars in cash for sex at either his Manhattan townhouse or his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, federal prosecutors revealed last month.