Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Rule of Law Goes Out the Window

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.

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 most stressful moment, Eubanks said, came when the three appointees ordered her to read word for word a closing argument they had rewritten. The statement explained the validity of seeking a $10 billion penalty. "I couldn't even look at the judge," she said.


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