Attorney General Barr orders removal of acting US prisons director after Epstein's death

Key Points
  • Attorney General William Barr will appoint a new director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons after Jeffrey Epstein's death.
  • Kathleen Hawk Sawyer will take over the agency, succeeding acting Director Hugh Hurwitz.
  • Epstein was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell earlier this month as he awaited trial on charges related to sex trafficking, in what was ruled a suicide by hanging.
US Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on "The Justice Department's Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 1, 2019.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr has ordered the removal of a top U.S. prisons official following Jeffrey Epstein's death.

In a statement Monday, the attorney general said he will name Kathleen Hawk Sawyer the new director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. She will succeed Hugh Hurwitz, acting director of the agency that oversees inmates in federal prisons.

Barr said he will appoint Thomas Kane as deputy director of the prisons bureau. Meanwhile, Hurwitz will lead the agency's Reentry Services Division, according to the attorney general.

"I am pleased to welcome back Dr. Hawk Sawyer as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Under Dr. Hawk Sawyer's previous tenure at the Bureau, she led the agency with excellence, innovation, and efficiency, receiving numerous awards for her outstanding leadership," Barr said in a statement that did not mention Epstein's death.

Epstein, a 66-year-old financier, was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell earlier this month as he awaited trial on charges of sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking conspiracy. His death was ruled a suicide by hanging. The former friend of Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

What happens next in the Jeffrey Epstein legal drama after his apparent suicide

The suicide of such a notable inmate sparked more questions about the management of the federal prison system. Just a few weeks before Epstein's death, he was found semiconscious in his cell with marks on his neck. While he was put on suicide watch, he was later reportedly taken off of it.

Lawmakers had called for accountability and an investigation into what took place at the Manhattan prison. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican who previously wrote a letter to Barr saying "heads must roll," said Monday that Hurwitz's removal is a "good start" but not "the end."

"Attorney General Barr did the right thing by removing the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and he ought to make every effort to prosecute every one of Epstein's co-conspirators to the fullest extent of the law," the senator from Nebraska and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said.

After the New York City medical examiner ruled his death a suicide on Friday, Epstein's lawyers argued "it is indisputable that the authorities violated their own protocols" in his death. They said "we are not satisfied with the conclusions of the medical examiner."

Hawk Sawyer was director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons from 1992 to 2003. Barr chose her for the post during his first stint as attorney general.

Hurwitz was appointed acting director of the bureau in May 2018. He led the prisons bureau during the death of another high-profile U.S. inmate. Crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger was murdered in a West Virginia prison in October 2018.

Last week, Barr reassigned the warden of the federal jail, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, where Epstein killed himself.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who as a Federal prosecutor oversaw Epstein's nonprosecution agreement widely criticized as a sweetheart deal, resigned last month. Only two days before, he had defended his role in this case.

— CNBC's Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report

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