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After Epstein's Death, Political Leaders Demand Continued Investigation


We're going to start our program today with news that may not be appropriate for younger listeners. Jeffrey Epstein, the financier charged with trafficking girls as young as 14 for sex, has died of an apparent suicide in his Manhattan jail cell. Epstein was found dead just one day after documents were unsealed that included the names of prominent public figures, politicians among them, who had an association with Epstein. The Miami Herald has looked into the nearly 2,000 pages that were released and has reported that a number of prominent men are accused of having sex with young women at Epstein's direction. All of those accused deny the allegations.

Epstein's death raises many questions, including what should happen to the investigations connected to his conduct? Congressman Lois Frankel believes that these investigations must continue. She represents Florida's 21st District, which includes Palm Beach, where Jeffrey Epstein lived part-time. She has called on the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform to investigate Epstein. And when we spoke earlier today, I asked her what questions the oversight committee could investigate.

LOIS FRANKEL: First of all, we want to know, why did the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Southern District, enter into a very - extremely lenient non-prosecution plea deal with a serial sex offender who was facing a 53-page federal indictment? And it - also, that deal gave immunity to people. We would like to know who was given immunity. We want to know, what were the pressures behind the officials, both in Palm Beach County and in the Southern District, for giving him this deal?

MARTIN: Now, the attorney general, William Barr, has also released a statement today saying that he was appalled - that was the word that he used - to learn that Jeffrey Epstein was found dead while in federal custody, and he is - the FBI is investigating. He's also consulted with the inspector general, who he says is opening an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Epstein's death. I know that you're a lawyer yourself. I mean, what do you make of it?

FRANKEL: Well, I hate to say this, and I don't - you know, listen this is just a surmise on my part, but I was not surprised for one minute. You know, without this - and I don't want to get ahead of the investigation - but there are a lot of very powerful people who wanted to see this man dead. And so was it really just a suicide? Was it negligence by the officials who had custody of him? I don't know. But I definitely think it needs to be investigated.

MARTIN: Who should...

FRANKEL: I think it could - it was predicted.

MARTIN: It was predicted?

FRANKEL: It was not a shock. I mean, the man apparently either was - tried to kill himself or somebody tried to harm him a couple weeks ago. And so it has to be a question - why was he left in a situation where he was not at least under some kind of suicide watch?

MARTIN: You know, there have been a number of sort of conspiracy theories, you know, floating around about this. And we're not going to participate in, you know, promulgating that. But, I mean, who, then, should be the investigative body? Because one of the things that is noteworthy is that he seemed to have a lot of powerful associations, or he was connected to people from a lot of different groups. I mean, they're both - he had friends on both sides of the aisle. He had friends in a lot of different sectors. So who, then, do you trust to investigate this?

FRANKEL: Well, you know what? I think it's appropriate for any investigative body that actually has jurisdiction to look into it. We'll write a letter asking for our oversight and reform committee to take a look at it. Whether the Justice Department looks at it, whether the state attorney general looks at it - I think it's appropriate.

Maybe then we can get to the bottom of this because, you know, this man's death does not obfuscate the fact that the victims - first of all, they need to have justice. And they also - there needs to be a forum for them to be heard if they so desire. And the public deserves transparency in what happened here. Obviously, there was a time years ago when they would - they were literally dismissed. And we're not going to allow that to happen anymore. We'll try to get to the bottom of it, and we'll see where it goes.

MARTIN: That is Congresswoman Lois Frankel. She's a Democrat. She represents Florida's 21st District. That's in Southern Florida.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for talking with us.

FRANKEL: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.