Politics and the Justice Department Extends to Tobacco Suits

The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration exerted political pressure on prosecutors to weaken their case against the tobacco industry:

The leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies said yesterday that Bush administration political appointees repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government’s racketeering case.

Sharon Y. Eubanks said Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’s office began micromanaging the team’s strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, to the detriment of the government’s claim that the industry had conspired to lie to U.S. smokers.

She said a supervisor demanded that she and her trial team drop recommendations that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty. He and two others instructed her to tell key witnesses to change their testimony. And they ordered Eubanks to read verbatim a closing argument they had rewritten for her, she said.

“The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said,” Eubanks said. “And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public.”

Eubanks, who served for 22 years as a lawyer at Justice, said three political appointees were responsible for the last-minute shifts in the government’s tobacco case in June 2005: then-Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum, then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and Keisler’s deputy at the time, Dan Meron.

The politicization of the Justice Department is coming under increasing attack, even from Republicans. Think Progress has video and a transcript from an interview in which Bob Barr charges that, “the integrity of the Department of Justice is being used as a political football.” Watching the White House fight subpoenas for officials including Karl Rove to testify is reminiscent of the Watergate era. They even top Rose Mary Wood and the 18½-minute gap with an 18-day gap in the emails released.

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