The sordid story of Jeffrey Epstein, who apparently committed suicide on Saturday while being held in a federal prison cell in Manhattan, involves several people with economic, legal, social and political prominence: President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, prosecutors who let Epstein and his co-conspirators elude true justice for decades, as well as other notables, including Epstein’s former attorney Alan Dershowitz.
But the most important people in this tragedy are often eclipsed: The victims, including many who were minors, of Epstein’s alleged and admitted crimes. These women deserve what the Constitution, our bedrock document, promises them: justice.
Instead, because of what Attorney General William Barr has labeled a “failure” by federal prison officials, victims will not be able to confront Epstein in court.
Barr did pledge that Epstein’s suicide would not end the investigation into his co-conspirators, who enabled the alleged abuse. While welcome, Barr’s words don’t inspire widespread confidence because many Americans believe he acted more like the president’s personal lawyer during the release of the Mueller report.
With Trump among the many famous associates of the infamous Epstein, many also may be skeptical that Barr’s Department of Justice will pursue Epstein’s powerful enablers with enough investigative rigor.
But that rigor is what the victims — and the American public — deserve.
Every aspect of this inquiry should be transparent. And when possible, prosecutions should proceed for Epstein’s enablers, no matter what their social, financial or political status. Only then will the many Americans who are justifiably cynical about justice in this country be convinced that the system can still work.
The perception that there are two separate and unequal justice systems — one for the rich and powerful and one for the rest of us — is too often justified. Turning a blind eye, as happened when Epstein got a sweetheart deal in Florida from Alex Acosta, then a federal prosecutor who rose to be Trump’s labor secretary, would only erode citizens’ belief, and stake, in the social contract that holds America together.
The Epstein case does give Americans reason to have faith in journalism. Journalist Julie K. Brown’s Miami Herald series “Perversion of Justice” was cited by Geoffrey Berman, a federal prosecutor on the case who said his team had been “assisted by some excellent investigative journalism.”
The Epstein case needs more facts, like those uncovered by Brown, and fewer conspiracy theories. Trump didn’t help by recklessly retweeting a conspiracy about the role of the Clintons in Epstein’s death.
The public should be wiser and not amplify the toxic Twitter misinformation that mushroomed immediately after Epstein’s apparent suicide was announced. Americans should not be silent, however. They should demand the truth.
That’s the least that the victims of Epstein’s alleged crimes deserve.