Big Tobacco watchdogs? Smoke 'em out

Evidence continues to mount that Bush cronies at the Justice Department plotted to undermine the department's own case against Big Tobacco.

Published June 20, 2005 10:05PM (EDT)

It's been almost two weeks since senior Justice Department officials -- one of them with close personal ties to President Bush -- forced their own attorneys to shave $120 billion off the amount sought in the department's case against the tobacco industry, and evidence that top officials plotted to undermine the department's case against Big Tobacco continues to mount. A government witness revealed this weekend that Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum threatened to have him removed from the witness list unless he softened his testimony against the tobacco companies. The witness, Harvard University business professor Max H. Bazerman, planned to recommend that the court appoint a monitor to determine whether certain senior tobacco industry management should be removed. McCallum, a former R.J. Reynolds attorney and a buddy of President Bush's from their days at Yale, apparently didn't like the notion of punishing specific tobacco execs, and relayed a "strong request" that Bazerman change his testimony to say that appointing such a monitor would be legally inappropriate under certain circumstances.

Bazerman wasn't the only government witness to get heat from Justice officials; earlier this month, an unnamed witness and source in the case told the Washington Post that Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president Matt Myers was asked to strike his recommendation that the industry be banned from using certain techniques to market to young people. And while both Bazerman and Myers refused to take the department's "recommendations" and were still allowed to testify, others may have succumbed to the pressure. Several unnamed witnesses on the case reported that scientific expert Michael Eriksen changed his testimony at the behest of Justice officials. (Eriksen declined to comment, but court documents confirm that the recommendations he gave on the stand were different those in his initial written testimony.)

Bazerman said he came forward because he was concerned that the career trial attorneys on the case would be blamed for the softening of the government's case against the industry. But, says Bazerman, the fault lies with Bush cronies at the Justice Department. "I want the government to behave appropriately," he said, according to the Post. "I can't think of an honest, plausible reason other than political interference for what they're doing."

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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