The Bush misadminstration’s motto should be Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive. On June 7, the inJustice Department of Alberto Gonzales made a surprising request in a lawsuit against big tobacco. As part of a proposed penalty, tobacco companies would fund a smoking cessation program that experts had projected would cost $130 billion dollars. The Justice Department’s Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum, pressured the government legal team on the case to request that the court require that funding be reduced to $10 billion dollars. Here’s the big surprise: before he joined Justice, McCallum was a partner at the Atlanta law firm of Alston & Bird, which counted tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds among its clients.
In a go for broke move, the Justice legal team had been originally directed to reduce its settlement claim down to $6 billion:
Government lawyers, who were ordered to slash their demand for a $130-billion industry-funded smoking cessation program, had been planning to propose a $16-billion campaign as closing arguments in the marathon case got underway last week, according to people close to the trial team, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But on the morning of June 7, the day of the government’s summation, the trial team was told to cut the demand still further, to $6 billion, the sources said. After a heated lunch-hour meeting — at which lawyers told senior staff that they couldn’t credibly propose $6 billion — they were cleared to ask federal Judge Gladys Kessler for a $10-billion program, the sources said.
The proposal shook Justice Department lawyers handling the case:
The May 30 memo was sent from Sharon Eubanks and Stephen Brody to Justice’s No. 3 officer, Robert D. McCallum, the newspaper reported Thursday.
In the seven-page memo the pair stated that cutting the penalty from $130 billion to $10 billion would look political and weaken the department’s ability to negotiate future settlements with industry defendants.
Their objections were overruled by McCallum, associate attorney general of the department.
McCallum has deep ties to Big Tobacco:
Good to see there are still some folks (the government’s tobacco case legal team) in the Bush administration that have a sense of ethics. Their timely leak helped bring pressure to bear on McCallum:
A group of senators has also asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to remove Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum Jr. from involvement in the case.
The could be another classic case of overreach on the part of the GOP shills, though:
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler explained in a court order late in the day that she closed the meeting to the public because she considered it “a routine, informal discussion with the parties urging them, once again, to consider the advantages of settling the case rather than the risks of litigating it.”
Philip Morris Chief Executive Michael Szymanczyk and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco CEO Susan Ivey and their lawyers were ushered into the private meeting yesterday through a secured entrance at the back of the federal courthouse. Both executives left the courthouse through a back entrance 2-½ hours later and declined to comment, as did their lawyers and spokesmen.
“The judge put this meeting under seal,” Dan Webb, lead attorney for Philip Morris, said as he left the session. “We’ve been instructed by the judge not to talk about our meeting. We’re just not going to discuss it, period.”
Let’s hope that judge read both sides the riot act and reminded them that the government should work for the best interests of the people of the United States, not the donors to political campaigns.
Add another tally to the record. This is little more than big business seeking a return on investment from the Republicans and Bushco. According to opensecrets, in the 2000 election cycle tobacco companies contributed $1,399,087 to Democratic candidates and $7,214,951 to Republican candidates. In the 2004 election cycle, contributions totaled $939,672 to Dems, $2,707,805 to Republicans.