Updated: Aug. 12, 2019, 3:13 p.m.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday promised a thorough investigation into the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, a disgraced wealthy financier with wide political connections who was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges involving underage girls.
Barr said he and the Justice Department he runs were appalled and "frankly angry" to learn that officials at a federal detention facility in New York, the Manhattan Correctional Center, failed "to adequately secure this prisoner."
"This case was important to the victims who had the courage to come forward and deserve the opportunity to confront the accused in the courtroom," Barr said. "We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability."
The country's top law enforcement official added, "Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it."
The 66-year-old Epstein was found dead in his cell early Saturday. He faced the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted of abusing underage girls at his New York mansion, an estate in Florida and on the island he owned in the Caribbean. Prosecutors alleged that he carried on a wide-ranging scheme to pay the girls to give him massages that often turned into demands for sex.
He was arrested July 6 in New York when he returned from a trip to Paris and detained since then. He was denied bail to await his trial at his elaborate New York row house, one of the biggest in the city. He had denied the allegations against him.
Last month, Epstein had been placed under a suicide watch after an earlier incident in which it was unclear whether he had tried to harm himself or been assaulted by another prisoner. But he was not under a suicide watch when authorities say he hung himself. Some U.S. news accounts say that jailhouse guards who had been expected to periodically check in on Epstein had not done so, possibly because of a shortage of guards in the overnight hours before he was found.
"We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation," Barr said.
"This sex trafficking case was very important to the Department of Justice and to me personally," Barr said. "It was important to the dedicated prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and to our FBI agents who investigated the case and were preparing it for trial."
New York's medical examiner performed an autopsy Sunday, but said the cause of Epstein's death is "pending further information."
Two decades ago, Epstein was friends with then New York real estate mogul Donald Trump, now the U.S. president. Video from their days together in Palm Beach, Florida, where both had estates, showed them partying and chatting with cheerleaders from a professional football team.
"I've known Jeff for 15 years," Trump told one interviewer. "Terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side."
But after the sex trafficking charges were filed against Epstein, Trump told reporters, without offering details, that he had had a falling out with Epstein 15 years ago.
"I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you," Trump said when Epstein was arrested last month.
After news surfaced of Epstein's death, Trump retweeted a baseless claim that a political rival of his, former President Bill Clinton, who also was a friend of Epstein's, was responsible for his jail cell death.
The Republican Trump also retweeted claims in courthouse documents released Friday that an underage girl who had accused Epstein of abuse had contended that Clinton and other prominent Democrats had traveled to Epstein's "pedophilia island."
All the Democrats have denied wrongdoing, as has Britain's Prince Andrew, another prominent figure who befriended Epstein.