Tampering at Justice
Originally published on Tuesday, June 21
Even with the Bush administration’s well-earned reputation as a lap dog for
business, the Justice Department’s sabotage of its own racketeering case
against the tobacco industry is, like smoking itself, breathtaking.
Over the strenuous objections of career departmental lawyers running the case,
Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum ordered them at the close of a
nine-month trial to reduce the penalties being sought from $130 billion to $10
According to The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the memo, the two
principal lawyers on Justice’s trial team, Sharon Y. Eubanks and Stephen D.
Brody, wrote to Mr. McCallum on May 30: “We do not want politics to be
perceived as the underlying motivation, and that is certainly a risk if we make
adjustments in our remedies presentation that are not based on evidence.”
The two attorneys also warned Mr. McCallum that a recommendation of lower
penalties would weaken Justice’s position in any settlement with the tobacco
companies and would “create an incentive for defendants to engage in future
misconduct by making the misconduct profitable.”
How touchingly naïve.
This is the presidency, after all, that lets the energy industry shape energy
policy, that allows a former oil-industry lobbyist now at the White House to
edit reports on global warming, that steers large contracts to the Vice
President’s former employer, that saw Enron’s chief as the President’s
In this case, the Justice lawyers had laid out a compelling case that a
feasible national smoking-cessation program — one that could repair the
of half a century of fraudulent industry claims about smoking — would cost
billion over 25 years.
But Mr. McCallum, an old Yale buddy of the President’s, ruled instead that
billion for a weak five-year program was more reasonable — even though no new
circumstances warranted changing Justice’s demands.
So barring an unlikely reversal, a pesky Clinton-era case is undercut, and a
prominent and generous corporate ally of the President gets a break.
And if, in the process, an opportunity to help 45 million American smokers
turns to ashes, well, too bad. In this administration, the needs of the rich
and powerful come first.
With GonzoGate, explains this question quite nicely, doesn't it?