The details of how the Bush assministration handled tobacco litigation continue to seep out.
Acting on a request from 50 Democratic lawmakers, the Justice Department’s Professional Responsibility Advisory Office has launched an investigation into whether political interference tainted the case. A group of senators have also asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to remove Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. from involvement in the case. McCallum, a former partner of a firm that represented R.J. Reynolds, told career government lawyers to reduce their recommended penalties. He said that the change was necessary because the government could seek money only to address the companies’ future actions — which anti-tobacco advocates dispute.
Yesterday, Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) and Martin T. Meehan (Mass.) wrote a letter urging the Professional Responsibility Office also to investigate whether Harvard University business professor Max H. Bazerman was threatened with being removed as a government witness if he did not water down his testimony. He had recommended that the court appoint a monitor to consider removing senior tobacco company management.
Bazerman said in an interview with The Washington Post that he was told by a career government trial lawyer that McCallum would not let him testify unless he changed his testimony to say that removing senior industry management would be “legally inappropriate” under several circumstances.
Such pressure “cannot possibly be justified,” the lawmakers said in a statement. “But it did directly benefit senior tobacco executives — many of whom are major donors to the Republican Party — whose jobs could have been threatened by the remedies proposed by Professor Bazerman.”