The Democratic National Committee (DNC) can be added to the list of groups that has taken a swipe at the Bush Administration by accusing it of political interference in the DOJ tobacco case. Specifically, the DNC has accused political appointee Robert McCallum (Associate Attorney General who oversees the civil division of the DOJ) of destroying the case by reducing the requested smoking cessation remedy from $130 billion to $10 billion in order to protect the financial interests of the tobacco companies.
According to the DNC: "In a shocking development, DOJ lawyers abandoned the recommendations provided in testimony by key government witnesses and requested a fraction of the amount suggested as an appropriate financial penalty for these companies. Even the judge in the case was confused, stating that 'There may be some additional influences being brought to bear on the government's decision.' Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum, who oversees the lawyers trying this case, said he would not comment on why DOJ changed its position. But with $9 million in donations to the GOP over the past four years, and with no fewer than four members of the DOJ leadership with strong ties to the tobacco industry, does he really need to say a word?"
The evidence that the DNC presents to support its accusation is basically two-fold: (1) Robert McCallum previously was a partner in a law firm that did patent work for R.J. Reynolds and a number of other DOJ appointees have "tobacco industry ties"; and (2) the tobacco companies have given a lot of money to the Republican party.
The Rest of the Story
Well that pretty much cinches it for me. If the tobacco companies gave a lot of money to the Republican party and the lawyer overseeing the DOJ case once was a partner at a law firm that did patent work for R.J. Reynolds, then by definition, the decision to reduce the requested smoking cessation remedy from $130 billion to $10 billion must have been motivated by a desire to protect the tobacco industry's financial interests.
This only leaves a few questions unanswered:
1. If the DOJ is acting solely in the interests of protecting Big Tobacco, then why has it refused to settle the case, even after it was clear that settlement negotiations were taking place and that Judge Kessler herself had ordered the two parties to discuss a potential settlement?
2. If the DOJ is acting solely in the interests of protecting Big Tobacco, then why did it decide to pursue the case in the first place? The suit could easily have been quashed long ago.
3. If the DOJ is acting solely in the interests of protecting Big Tobacco, then why did it appeal the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling to the Supreme Court, which potentially could open the door to large financial remedies?
Of course, the biggest question that remains unanswered is: in what possible way does altering a remedy that never had a chance of passing legal muster with the D.C. Court of Appeals protect the financial interests of the tobacco companies?
If anything, leaving that ridiculous remedy request intact would have been the best thing DOJ could have done to protect Big Tobacco. Judge Kessler and, if it got that far, the D.C. Court of Appeals would have dismissed the $130 billion proposed remedy so quickly that it would have been an embarrassment for the Department.
If anything, tailoring the remedy more narrowly so that it is smaller and applies only to future smokers will strengthen the case by at least providing a shot at the remedy being upheld.
But the most disturbing aspect of the DNC's accusation, to me, is its dismissal of the need for any solid evidence before making a stinging political attack that is not supported by legal reasoning: "But with $9 million in donations to the GOP over the past four years, and with no fewer than four members of the DOJ leadership with strong ties to the tobacco industry, does he really need to say a word?"
Yes - you do need to say a word. It is not enough to just say that the Republican party takes tobacco money, thus anything DOJ does must be to protect the interests of the tobacco companies. In what way was continuing the suit in the first place protecting the interests of the industry? And how does appealing the case to the Supreme Court help the industry? And how could refusing to settle the case on weak terms protect the industry's financial interests?
Yes - you do need to say a word. With no less than $1.6 milion in tobacco industry donations to the Democratic party at the state level in the last three election cycles, with $1.2 million in donations to the Democratic party in the 2001-2002 election cycle alone, and with a whopping $13.3 million in donations to the Democrats over the past 14 years, I might conclude, using the precise reasoning you are providing, that the Democratic party is in the hands of the tobacco industry.
In fact, the reason why the DOJ, under the Clinton administration, did not request $130 billion for a smoking cessation remedy must therefore be that it was trying to protect the financial interests of Big Tobacco, in light of the more than $13 million in donations the Democratic party has received.
Since the DNC reaped in $900,000 in soft money from the tobacco industry between 1993 and 1995, it must be true that Clinton's decision to file the suit against the tobacco companies was a disguised attempt to protect their financial interests. He obviously must have felt that by filing a lawsuit that had little chance of financial success, he would ultimately give the industry the legal security they needed to solidify their stock value.
The rest of the story reveals that the Democratic National Committee's attack of the Bush Administration for poltically interfering in the DOJ case by reducing the requested smoking cessation remedy from $130 billion to $10 billion in order to protect the financial interests of the tobacco companies is nothing other than a pot shot.
The accusation is not supported by an understanding of the legal issues involved in the case; nor is it supported by the weak evidence that the DNC uses to justify its political attack.
If the DNC wants to find evidence of political interference in the effort to protect the public from the hazards of tobacco products, motivated by tobacco industry donations to politicians, then I suggest it begin by looking no further than its own house.