According to a CNN.com article, a career DOJ attorney who is prosecuting the tobacco industry case has explained that political interference was not behind the Department's recent decision to revise its requested smoking cessation remedy to apply only to newly-addicted smokers, rather than current smokers.
The DOJ attorney reportedly told TIME that the accuastion that political interference from the Bush Administration led to the change in the smoking cessation plan was "exactly wrong."
According to the article, "Government attorneys were caught off guard in February by a circuit-court ruling that severely limited the payout they could seek from Big Tobacco, said Justice Department officials. Under the racketeering statutes cited in the case, the government could not recommend a penalty for any past wrongdoing and instead was restricted to proposals geared to prevent and restrain future action. Prosecutors scrambled to adjust their case. The solution, based on recommendations by longtime Justice lawyers, was to ask the court to demand an initial $10 billion payment, then appoint a monitor to review the behavior of the industry and recommend a suitable penalty every year until the cigarette makers stop their misdeeds."
Far from trying to weaken the case, the DOJ source told TIME that the decision was intended to strengthen the case. "Justice lawyers say that far from staging a retreat, they are betting on the 'virtual certainty' that the tobacco industry won't change its ways in one year and thus will be liable for steep penalties for years to come."
The Rest of the Story
The fact that a knowledgeable DOJ insider, on background, has told a news reporter that the decision to alter the requested smoking cessation remedy was based on strategic, legal grounds and that the accusation that political interference led to this decision was "exactly wrong" adds significant evidence that should help convince anti-smoking groups not to be hasty in drawing definitive conclusions regarding the reasons for the altered remedy.
This is the clearest statement yet by a DOJ official and while certainly not definitive, the fact that it is the only clear statement regarding the reasoning behind the $120 billion saga made by a DOJ insider suggests that anti-smoking groups should exercise some restraint in making unequivocal accusations of political interference in the smoking cessation plan decision.
The DOJ attorney's explanation for the change is virtually identical to the reason posited by The Rest of the Story in Thursday's post.
Given the best available information at this time, I do not believe that the type of definitive, unqualified accusation made by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is justified.