Friday :: Jun 10, 2005

Alberto Gonzales Fiddles While Big Tobacco's Man Inside the Justice Department Destroys Racketeering Case Further


by Steve

Well, letís see what todayís outrage is from Bush buddy Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum, who is being allowed by Alberto Gonzales to eviscerate the governmentís case against Big Tobacco by reducing the damages sought in a racketeering case. Earlier in the week, McCallum surprised Big Tobacco and the federal judge in the case by tanking the settlement sought for childrenís anti-smoking programs, dropping the governmentís demand from $130 billion to only $10 billion against the advice of his own prosecutors and after McCallum told his own expert witnesses to change their testimony to go easier on Big Tobacco. Well today the Washington Post is reporting that McCallum now has surprised the judge and Big Tobacco attorneys again by dropping government demands that the settlement include funds to help current smokers quit smoking.

Not only is the Bush Administration throwing in the towel on current smokers and forgoing a chance to reduce health care costs by giving up on smoking cessation programs, but even Big Tobacco is now criticizing the governmentís topsy-turvy legal strategy. Worse yet, the government canít even tell Big Tobacco how many smokers this will affect.

In the surprising final day of an eight-month trial, the Justice Department's lead attorney said the government now wants tobacco companies to pay only for smoking cessation programs for an unspecified number of future smokers who may become addicted to cigarettes in the first year after the trial concludes.
On Tuesday, the government stunned anti-smoking activists and some industry lawyers by requesting that tobacco companies pay $10 billion for a smoking cessation program, rather than the $130 billion a government expert had testified was necessary to aid all current smokers. Yesterday, Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. said the government's last-minute penalty reduction came after it concluded it could seek funds to cover cessation programs only for people who become addicted to tobacco in the near future.
Anti-smoking activists and industry lawyers ridiculed the government's description of its new cessation proposal. They said Justice officials seemed unable to answer basic questions about how many people it would cover, how the government would verify which smokers became addicted in the first year and who would be barred from getting help.
"In 48 hours we've heard three different plans from the government about its proposed cessation program," said Philip Morris attorney Ted Wells. "And it's almost comical to listen to the government try to explain it."
Dan Webb, lead tobacco attorney in the case, complained to Kessler that the government is recommending changes in penalties for the industry "too late in the game." "The government keeps changing its remedies on a day-to-day basis," Webb said. "It's a moving target."
William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the last-minute changes suggest political interference by the Bush administration to soften the blow for the tobacco companies.
"It appears senior Justice officials decided on an amount of money and are now trying to justify that amount by describing a cessation program that doesn't make sense and won't work," Corr said. "They are changing the cessation program to protect the financial interests of the industry rather than 45 million addicted adults."
Several legal experts said the government's new theory is too generous to the industry, because it concedes legal points that might be successfully argued. Some sources involved in the case think the government is trying to settle it by proposing lower penalties that it hopes the tobacco industry might accept. Government spokesmen have declined to comment on whether it is trying to settle the case.

And while McCallum eviscerates the governmentís case in front of the judge and makes the Justice Department look inept, stupid, and politically beholden to Big Tobacco while not caring about current smokers or preventing teen smoking, Alberto Gonzales sits and does nothing. And neither does President Bush.

The federal government has spent millions and millions of dollars fighting this case over the last eight years, yet the Bush Administration appears to be intentionally undermining and destroying its own case. Rather than appealing the Court of Appeals decision that McCallum cites as the reason for scuttling his own case, the Administration has decided to discredit itself and its own prosecutors for the sake of paying back Big Tobacco for its generous support of Bush and the GOP. All this will ensure is that Judge Kessler will throw aside the administration's own requested settlement and impose her own penalty upon Big Tobacco, which due to McCallum's self-inflicted wounds upon the government's case will ensure an automatic appeal by Big Tobacco to the District Court of Appeal anyway. And while this is going on in court for the next several years, more and more kids will become addicted to smoking and more and more adults won't benefit from cessation programs funded by the industry that could reduce the health care costs to all of us.

But by then, Bush will happily be back on the ranch in Crawford after benefitting from the blood money he got from Big Tobacco.

Steve :: 8:18 AM :: Comments (4) :: TrackBack (2) :: Digg It!