The Justice Department clarified Tuesday that Attorney General Bill Barr will not recuse himself from the Jeffrey Epstein case, despite Barr saying a day earlier that he planned to due to his past legal work.
Barr, during a visit to South Carolina on Monday, was asked whether he planned to get involved in the Epstein case, which involves accusations the 66-year-old hedge fund manager preyed on “dozens” of underage victims—some as young as 14. He has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking.
“I’m recused from that matter because one of the law firms that represented Epstein long ago was a firm I subsequently joined for a period of time,” Barr told reporters.
Barr joined the law firm Kirkland & Ellis in 2009, which had represented Epstein during a separate case against him in 2008.
But a Justice Department official told Fox News on Tuesday that after consulting with career ethics officials, Barr will not recuse himself from the current case being led by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York. The attorney general, though, will remain recused from any "retrospective review" of the 2008 case.
But Barr is not the only Trump administration official faced with questions over the Epstein case—Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has faced scrutiny over his handling of that 2008 case. Acosta, who was U.S. attorney for Florida at the time, helped Epstein to secure a plea deal that resulted in an 18-month sentence—he served just 13 months. The deal was criticized as lenient because Epstein could have faced a life sentence. Acosta negotiated a deal that resulted in two state solicitation charges, but no federal charges.
Acosta has defended the plea deal as appropriate under the circumstances, though the White House said in February that it was “looking into” his handling of the deal.
Epstein was charged this week with sex trafficking and conspiracy during the early 2000s. Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday in New York City federal court.
"The victims described herein were as young as 14 years old at the time they were abused...and were, for various reasons, often particularly vulnerable to exploitation," prosecutors wrote in court documents. "Epstein intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18."
Epstein allegedly created and maintained a "vast network" and operation from 2002 "up to and including" at least 2005 that enabled him to "sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls" in addition to paying victims to recruit other underage girls.
Prosecutors also allege Epstein "worked and conspired with others, including employees and associates" who helped facilitate his conduct by contacting victims and scheduling their sexual encounters with the 66-year-old at his mansion in New York City and Palm, Beach, Fla.
Victims would be paid hundreds of dollars in cash by either Epstein or one of his associates or employees, according to prosecutors. The 66-year-old also allegedly "incentivized his victims" to become recruiters by paying the victim-recruiters hundreds of dollars for each girl brought to him.
Epstein was once friends with former President Bill Clinton, Britain’s Prince Andrew and President Trump. He was arrested Saturday after his private jet touched down from France.
Clinton on Monday released a statement acknowledging that he had taken a total of four trips on Epstein’s plane, but said he “knows nothing” about the “terrible crimes” linked to Epstein.
Separately, claims in court showed that Trump may have flown on the jet at least once as well.
Trump banned Epstein from his Mar-a-Lago estate "because Epstein sexually assaulted an underage girl at the club," according to court documents filed by Bradley Edwards, the lawyer who has represented several Epstein accusers.
The president’s legal team has denied the two were friends.
Fox News’ Travis Fedschun, Jake Gibson, Edmund DeMarche, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.