Explaining the Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy theories linked to Trump, Clinton

President Donald Trump appears in Washington July 12, 2019, with former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta who stepped down amid criticism of his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case. (AP)
President Donald Trump appears in Washington July 12, 2019, with former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta who stepped down amid criticism of his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case. (AP)

The details of Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide have yet to come into full view, but that did nothing to stem the tide of misinformation coursing through social media channels.

Some left-wing Facebook groups baselessly linked the disgraced financier’s death to President Donald Trump, while other unsubstantiated conspiracy theories (including one amplified by Trump himself) tied the billionaire’s fate to former President Bill Clinton. Still other social media users falsely claimed that Epstein had not died. 

None of those claims are backed by available evidence — and some are rooted in decades-old, long-debunked conspiracy theories. But social media posts promoting them have amassed tens of thousands of shares on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Some of those posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Here’s a roundup of some of the misinformation surrounding Epstein that PolitiFact looked into.

No connection between Trump administration, Epstein’s death

One pro-labor Facebook group used Epstein’s death to attack Trump. The group, Union Thugs, strongly suggested that Trump, through his cabinet, had a hand in coordinating Epstein’s death. 

"DOJ under Barr had jurisdiction over the prison Epstein was in. It's been reported that the security cameras failed at the moment of the alleged suicide," the post reads. "Trump cabinet member Acosta gets Epstein a pass in court previously. Trump is a frequent flyer on Epstein airlines...yeah sure he killed himself."

To be clear: Epstein’s death is under investigation and there is nothing linking Trump or his administration to Epstein's demise. And as we’ve previously reported, criminal justice experts say that suicide is endemic in American jails.

There are other problems with this post. 

The claim that security cameras failed at the moment of the alleged suicide is unconfirmed, and it has been the subject of conflicting reporting about video surveillance at the federal lockup. The Justice Department did not respond to PolitiFact’s questions about the security surveillance.

The New York Post, citing anonymous "law enforcement officials," reported that there is no surveillance tape of Epstein’s apparent suicide. 

The newspaper said the reason no footage exists is because cameras positioned near Epstein’s location are pointed at areas outside the cells, not inside the cells, according to unnamed sources familiar with the prison’s layout.

However, NBC News cited a former longtime federal Bureau of Prisons case manager who said some cells in the Metropolitan Correctional Center do have security cameras.

The website Heavy.com traced the unsubstantiated rumor of a "camera malfunction" to a tweet by Michael Coudrey, a self-described specialist in "digital information warfare" who claims the Republican Party as one of his clients. Our efforts to contact Coundrey were unsuccessful. 

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There’s no evidence that the Clintons were involved in Epstein’s death

In the hours after news broke about Epstein’s apparent suicide, the term "Clintons" and #ClintonBodyCount started trending behind "Epstein" on Twitter — thanks in part to a retweet from President Trump.

While the posts varied, the central claim they made remained the same: that the Clintons somehow orchestrated Epstein’s death.

"Died of SUICIDE on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH? Yeah right! How does that happen," Terrence Williams, a comedian with more than 500,000 followers, tweeted Aug. 10, racking up more than 68,000 retweets. "#JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead."

As of now, there is no evidence to suggest foul play in Epstein’s death, much less that it was coordinated by a former president. But according to Hoaxy, a tool that visualizes the spread of tweets, Williams’ post was among the most-shared tweets with #ClintonBodyCount.  

The conspiracy that the Clintons kill people is not new. In a 1998 fact-check about a list of people purportedly murdered by the Clintons, Snopes wrote that similar rumors had been circulating "for about 20 years." The fact-checking site researched dozens of people on the bogus hit list and rated the hoax false.

PolitiFact has also done extensive fact-checking of conspiracies about the Clintons killing people. In each case, we rated those hoaxes False or Pants on Fire — our worst ratings.

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Epstein not dead? Conspiracy theories abound

A major point of controversy is whether Epstein was on a suicide watch at the time of his death. But regarding whether he still lives, there are a number of people in official positions who have confirmed that Epstein is dead.

But in the eyes of some on Facebook, Epstein is still very much alive.

"Not a chance he is dead," said one Facebook post that has been shared over 2,000 times. "Very well protected. In federal custody in maximum security. In a suicide watch cell."

We rated this claim is Pants on Fire.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons announced his death.

The New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner issued a statement Aug. 11, saying, "Today, a medical examiner performed the autopsy of Jeffrey Epstein." Needless to say, autopsies are only performed on the dead.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Aug. 10, "I was appalled to learn that Jeffrey Epstein was found dead early this morning from an apparent suicide while in federal custody. "

One of Epstein’s lawyers, Marc Fernich, blamed prosecutors, the press and the Manhattan Correctional Center, where Epstein was held, describing them on Aug. 10 as "Jailers who appear to have recklessly put Mr. Epstein in harm’s way, heedlessly placing his life at risk and failing to protect him."