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6/16/2005 11:17:00 AM | Justin

Republican Racketeering

The New York Times has an article today about allegations of fraud and racketeering on the part of the U.S. Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum (a 2001 Bush appointee). It turns out that Robert McCallum was put in charge of overseeing the prosecution of the tobacco industry despite his long time role as a lawyer defending key players in the tobacco industry. Then just when the legal team was about to win $130 billion from the industry, he suddenly pulled the plug on the case by forcing them to reduce their demands to $10 billion. He also seems to have ordered witnesses to alter their testimony in ways that weaken the prosecution (I thought tampering with witnesses was illegal, but I guess not).

This is a classic example of why there's too much money in politics: Political donations are a very effective form of financial leveraging available to any industry corrupt enough to use them. For instance, in this case, they've managed to convert a $2.7 million "investment" in the republican party into a $120 billion dollar reward. That's a 444000% return. Bravo, tobacco! Granted, there's never any direct proof of a link between the donation and the reward because that would be illegal, but in cases like this, it couldn't be more obvious. Fortunately, the democrats aren't playing along.

Some excerpts from the article are below:

At the close of a major trial that dozens of Justice Department lawyers spent more than five years preparing, the department stunned a federal courtroom last week by reducing the penalties sought against the industry, from $130 billion to $10 billion, over accusations of fraud and racketeering...

Mr. McCallum, No. 3 at the department, is a close friend of President Bush from their days as Skull & Bones members at Yale, and he was also a partner at an Atlanta law firm, Alston & Bird, that has done legal work for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, part of Reynolds American, a defendant in the case...

In saying the decision was politically motivated, critics have pointed not only to Mr. McCallum's role at a law firm tied to the industry, a role that a Justice Department ethics office ruled did not prevent him from overseeing the case, but also to the industry's political contributions to the Republican Party. The industry gave $2.7 million to Republicans last year and $938,000 to Democrats...

The memorandum also questioned the handling of some government witnesses who were asked to alter their written testimony to reflect the department's concerns...

The explanations have not quieted complaints from Democrats. A group of 50 lawmakers sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on Wednesday urging him not to agree to an accord with the tobacco industry "based on the unreasonably weak demands made by the government last week."




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