Thursday, March 22, 2007
More Charges Of Political Manipulation Of DOJ By Gonzales And Company
The leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies said yesterday that Bush administration political appointees repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government's racketeering case.
Sharon Y. Eubanks said Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's office began micromanaging the team's strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, to the detriment of the government's claim that the industry had conspired to lie to U.S. smokers.
She said a supervisor demanded that she and her trial team drop recommendations that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty. He and two others instructed her to tell key witnesses to change their testimony. And they ordered Eubanks to read verbatim a closing argument they had rewritten for her, she said.
"The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said," Eubanks said. "And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public."
Eubanks, who served for 22 years as a lawyer at Justice, said three political appointees were responsible for the last-minute shifts in the government's tobacco case in June 2005: then-Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum, then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and Keisler's deputy at the time, Dan Meron.
News reports on the strategy changes at the time caused an uproar in Congress and sparked an inquiry by the Justice Department. Government witnesses said they had been asked to change testimony, and one expert withdrew from the case. Government lawyers also announced that they were scaling back a proposed penalty against the industry from $130 billion to $10 billion.
High-ranking Justice Department officials said there was no political meddling in the case, and the department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) concurred after an investigation.
Yesterday was the first time that any of the government lawyers on the case spoke at length publicly about what they considered high-level interference by Justice officials.
Eubanks, who retired from Justice in December 2005, said she is coming forward now because she is concerned about what she called the "overwhelming politicization" of the department demonstrated by the controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Lawyers from Justice's civil rights division have made similar claims about being overruled by supervisors in the past.
Eubanks said Congress should not limit its investigation to the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys.
"Political interference is happening at Justice across the department," she said. "When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general's office, politics is the primary consideration. . . . The rule of law goes out the window."
The more Congress and the working press look into this mess at Justice, the more they are going to find that Preznut Bush, Karl Rove and Abu Gonzales have concluded that the DOJ is just another wing of the Republican National Committee.
Yet tee vee chattering heads like Tweety Bird Matthews and Lou Dobbs are complaining that the Democrats' investigations into the prosecutor purge and Abu Gonzales scandals are nothing more than a distraction from the importance business of "real governing." (In Dobbs' case, of course, that means deporting illegal brown people...)
Yet what could be more important than investigating an administration that has subverted the rule of law by turning the justice department into a bastion of political cronyism?
As Josh Marshall noted
You realize that these are textbook cases of the party in power interfering or obstructing the administration of justice for narrowly partisan purposes. It's a direct attack on the rule of law.
That's why these investigations are important and must be expanded.