Monday, June 20, 2005

Up In Smoke

The government is suborning perjury.

A top Justice Department official threatened to remove a government expert from its witness list if he did not water down his recommended penalties for the tobacco industry, the witness said in an interview yesterday.

Harvard University business professor Max H. Bazerman said a career trial lawyer told him senior Justice officials wanted him to change his recommendation that the court appoint a monitor to review whether it was appropriate to remove senior tobacco company management. Bazerman said the lawyer was passing along the “strong request” the week before Bazerman was to take the witness stand on May 4 in the government’s landmark racketeering case against the industry.

The government says the tobacco industry engaged in a 50-year conspiracy to defraud the public about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.

Bazerman said the lawyer told him the change — opposed by the career lawyers on the case — had come from Justice Department senior litigation counsel Frank J. Marine and Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr.

Bazerman declined to name the lawyer, saying he was concerned the person could face retaliation from Justice Department superiors. Bazerman said the lawyer told him that McCallum had threatened removing Bazerman from the government’s witness list and prohibiting him from testifying if Bazerman did not change his testimony. In the proposed change, Bazerman said he was expected to say that appointing a monitor to consider removing senior management would likely be legally inappropriate under certain circumstances. Bazerman said he refused to make the change and was ultimately allowed to testify May 4.

“I would have felt I was lying under oath, and I couldn’t do that,” Bazerman said. “I thought then, and I believe now, that it was inappropriate influence to weaken the government’s case against the tobacco industry.”

Remember the good old days when the idea was that government was supposed to protect and promote the safety and well-being of its citizens? Ah, those were the days.