Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday joined a host of prominent figures in sharply questioning how Jeffrey Epstein died in an apparent suicide in federal jail, insisting that he was not dabbling in conspiracy theories even as he echoed them.
The mayor said in an interview that he did not understand how Mr. Epstein, who was facing multiple accusations of sexual abuse and sex trafficking and who had only recently been taken off suicide watch, was left unsupervised long enough in the federal jail in Manhattan so that he was in a position to end his own life.
“It’s just too convenient,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It’s too many pieces happening simultaneously that don’t fit.”
Mr. Epstein’s death has led to an explosion of unfounded conspiracy theories on social media, often uniting people of disparate ideologies who seem to be grasping for any kind of explanation for how it could have happened.
Such conspiracy theories usually thrive on the fringes. But the death of Mr. Epstein has drawn in notables in politics, media and the academic world who have joined in the unfounded speculation.
Mr. Epstein, a financier, had cultivated relationships over the years with luminaries in politics, business, academia, science and fashion.
Mr. de Blasio noted that Mr. Epstein “had information potentially related to some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country.”
“It’s just not a believable situation that there wouldn’t be an intense and careful effort to watch him,” Mr. de Blasio said.
He added: “A lot of times, folks fall into conspiracy theories that instantly fall apart and sound extreme. But in this case, the facts themselves don’t make sense on their face.”
There has been no evidence so far of foul play in Mr. Epstein’s death. Like other officials, the mayor called for a full and independent investigation into Mr. Epstein’s death and said he hoped law enforcement would continue to pursue justice for Mr. Epstein’s accusers.
Other prominent figures, including former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Representative Al Green, a Democrat of Texas, and Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor, all said on Monday that they did not need to wait for an official investigation to assert that something did not add up.
Mr. Trump, who has often shared unfounded conspiracy theories, has contributed to the frenzy, retweeting a baseless one about Mr. Epstein and the Clintons. Mr. Giuliani said in an interview Monday that Mr. Trump “feels very poorly treated because they tried to connect Epstein to him.”
Mr. Epstein was found dead on Saturday morning after he had apparently hanged himself, just two weeks after he had been taken off suicide watch at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan, officials said.
The jail is run by the federal Bureau of Prisons, so Mr. de Blasio does not have jurisdiction over it. The United States attorney general, William B. Barr, said on Monday that there had been “serious irregularities” at the jail, and that the F.B.I. is investigating what happened.
Mr. Giuliani said that while he was “not a conspiracy theorist," the lack of available information had led naturally to speculation.
“I don’t know if any of the conspiracy theories mean anything,” he said. “The reason they get created is the absence of transparency.”
He said he had been in the midst of a deposition all afternoon and was not caught up on the latest news. Told that Mr. Epstein had reportedly used a bedsheet to commit suicide, he said, “That’s pretty hard to do.”
On Twitter, Mr. Scarborough said that Mr. Epstein had information that “would have destroyed rich and powerful” men’s lives and his death was “predictably Russian.”
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Scarborough called his own comment glib, but would not characterize it as a conspiracy theory.
“What observer of news doesn’t think that Epstein being left alone in a cell was not a bizarre choice for somebody to make?” he asked. “It sounds like something that you read in the past about mob informants, who were under heavy guard but still somehow managed to find a way to kill themselves so they didn’t have to testify.”
Other politicians insisted that what they had learned so far made little sense.
“The suicide of Mr. Epstein is an impossibility,” Representative Green said on Twitter, calling for a congressional investigation of the death. “When an impossibility occurs involving powerful people and possible criminality there must be an investigation to end speculation.”
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Green said that he had been referring to the allegations against the financier and that he did not mean to suggest that Mr. Epstein’s death had involved powerful people and possible criminality. He repeated his call for an official investigation.
“I am not a person who has a conspiracy theory about this,” he said. “I don’t have such a theory. I just know that where there are few facts, there is much speculation and it is our duty to minimize the speculation by presenting the facts to the nation.”
Professor Tribe, who teaches constitutional law at Harvard and who has a social media following of more than half a million people, said on Twitter on Saturday that “you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see an evil cover-up to protect lots of powerful men here.”
Asked to elaborate in an interview on Monday, the professor said that while he had no particular theory of what had happened to Mr. Epstein, he suspected that there was more than an “accidental explanation.”
He added that it did not seem to go far enough to simply insist that Mr. Epstein’s death be thoroughly investigated.
“We are at a point where so many things are concerning that one has to raise the decibel level a little,” Professor Tribe said. “If people who are responsible and don’t tend to be screamers don’t do that, it’s too easy to dismiss those who do as the usual suspects.”
Raising the decibel level is something that is rewarded on social media. On Twitter, in particular, countless people are willing to fill an information void with opinions, assertions and baseless speculation.
“The new social media has allowed conspiratorial accusations to multiply and flourish because the gatekeepers who used to decide what should be aired or printed have been bypassed,” said Russell Muirhead, a co-author of “A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy.”
Mr. Muirhead said that he was concerned that the nature of social media might start to lead traditional gatekeepers to more regularly engage in spreading conspiracies, rather than in fighting them. He said that was a particular risk with stories like Mr. Epstein’s, that really did call for more explanation.
“To the extent that gatekeepers are following what’s trending rather than examining what’s trending with skepticism, then we’re really at risk of giving this new conspiracism even more force than it already has,” he said.
Anushka Patil contributed reporting.
Jonah Bromwich is based in New York. He writes for the Style section. @jonesieman
Source: Read Full Article