Friday, June 02, 2006

Tobacco Settlement Skullduggery

When the Justice Department--on their own volition--decided to accept only S10 billion instead of $130 billion in the settlement with big tobacco companies, ugly rumors began to circulate in Washington.

A federal judge ruled yesterday that Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. must undergo questioning in a lawsuit by a nonprofit group seeking records about the Justice Department's conduct in a landmark case against the tobacco industry.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued last year after the department ignored the testimony of one of its own witnesses in the tobacco trial and reduced the amount the Bush administration is seeking from the tobacco industry from $130 billion to $10 billion.

CREW said the department has failed to produce a single responsive document to demands for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said the organization is entitled to delve into the department's handling of the document requests by questioning McCallum, the third-ranking official at the Justice Department, who is at the center of allegations that the administration caved in to the tobacco industry in reducing the amount of money it is seeking.

Sullivan's decision is the latest problem related to McCallum's nomination as the Bush administration's choice to become ambassador to Australia. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) is blocking McCallum's nomination over allegations that he improperly influenced the government's lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers...

In its lawsuit filed in October, CREW asked for records of all contacts between Justice Department officials and the White House concerning the tobacco litigation and records of all contacts between McCallum and his old law firm in Atlanta, which has done work for the tobacco industry.

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