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Saturday, April 15, 2006
Posted 6:32 PM by

Smoking gun: Did McCallum sabotage the tobacco RICO case?

It's been 12 years to the week since executives for the seven biggest tobacco companies lied under oath that they didn't think cigarette smoking was addictive. Instead of pressing its case, though, the Justice Department lowered potential civil damages from $130 billion to $10 billion.The shell game by the Bush Administration continued anew this week. While most of the national media focused on generals asking for the ouster of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the President nearly feather-bedded a cushy job for an ally.

That is until Sen. Dick Durbin stood up and blocked the nomination of Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. to be our country's next ambassador to Australia.

Under Senate rules, any senator can put a hold on a nomination, but can be overriden by a vote of 60 of the 100 senators.

In a letter to President Bush, the Democrat from Illinois said it was premature to place McCallum in a new position of trust as long as the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting an ethics inquiry into allegations the former tobacco lawyer sabotaged the Justice Department's long-standing lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

Durbin wrote his letter exactly 12 years to the week after executives for the top seven tobacco companies were sworn in before Congress and testified that they didn't believe cigarettes were addicting.

The civil racketeering tobacco case, filed during the Clinton administration, alleges the cigarette companies knowingly engaged in deception for decades by denying that nicotine was addictive and downplaying the dangers of smoking.

At the end of the tobacco trial last year, the Justice Department bypassed the position of one of its own witnesses and reduced the amount the Bush administration was seeking from the tobacco industry from $130 billion to $10 billion.

Some government witnesses have claimed they were pressured to reduce their damage estimates.

The controversy led the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility to launch an ethics inquiry. McCallum, the department's No. 3 official, was specifically targeted.

"It appears that the dramatic change in course by the Department of Justice was not the result of any new evidence about smoking cessation or the facts of the case but the result of political pressure on the career prosecutors," Durbin wrote the president. "Senators should be given an independent, unbiased assurance that he did not take any improper actions in the tobacco lawsuit before we are asked to consider his nomination."

Is Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr., a former tobacco lawyer, being awarded an ambassadorship for purposely sabotage the government's civil racketeering case against tobacco companies?U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has not yet ruled in the tobacco case.

Last July, after the department abandoned the $130 billion figure, the judge granted the request of six anti-smoking groups to join the lawsuit, saying the government "no longer adequately represents" their interests.

Given how this case was mishandled, is it any wonder why oil company executives were not sworn in before testifying in front of Congress last summer and why their companies are reaping record profits even as gas prices approach $3 a gallon?


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