Another day, another scandal at the Department of Justice. The Washington Post reported today that political appointees at the Justice Department who were sympathetic to President Bush interfered with the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s landmark case against the tobacco industry. In effect, the DOJ officials have been accused of intentionally weakening their own case in order to spare cigarette makers from excessive penalties.
Sharon Y. Eubanks, the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lead prosecutor in the case, told the Post that officials in Attorney General Alberto GonzalesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ office aggressively influenced the way she handled the case during the trialÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final stages in 2005. Eubanks said that she was ordered to drop her request that industry executives be removed from their jobs as part of the penalty against them. She also claimed that the DOJ officials forced their own witnesses to change their testimonies at the 11th hour and that they forced her to read closing arguments, word for word, that theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d composed on her behalf.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said,Ã¢â‚¬Â Eubanks told the Post. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Eubanks was a Justice Department lawyer for 22 years and told the paper that she is coming forth because of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“overwhelming politicizationÃ¢â‚¬Â of the Justice Department under the Bush Administration. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Political interference is happening at Justice across the department,Ã¢â‚¬Â she told the Post. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney generalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office, politics is the primary considerationÃ¢â‚¬Â¦. The rule of law goes out the window.Ã¢â‚¬Â
According to Eubanks, the three political appointees involved in the interference were then-Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum, then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler, and KeislerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s deputy at the time, Dan Meron. She also said that McCallum ordered her to reduce the amount of damages she was seeking from the tobacco companies from $130 billion to $10 billion–a mere two weeks before closing arguments. To add insult to injury, they also forced her to explain Ã¢â‚¬Å“herÃ¢â‚¬Â rationale for that decision in the closing arguments theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d prepared for her.