WASHINGTON – A top Justice Department official threatened to remove a government expert from its witness list if he did not water down his recommended penalties against the tobacco industry, the witness said in an interview Sunday.
Harvard University business professor Max Bazerman said an attorney told him Justice Department officials wanted him to change his recommendation that the court appoint a monitor to review whether it would be appropriate to remove senior tobacco company management.
Bazerman said the attorney was passing along a “strong request” the week before Bazerman was to take the witness stand May 4 in the landmark racketeering case against the tobacco industry.
The government claims the industry engaged in a 50-year conspiracy to defraud the public about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.
Bazerman said the attorney told him the change – opposed by lawyers on the case – came from Justice Department attorney Frank Marine and Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr.
Bazerman declined to name the trial attorney, saying he is concerned the person could face retaliation.
Bazerman said the attorney told him McCallum had threatened to remove Bazerman from the government’s witness list and prohibit 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 likely would be legally inappropriate under certain circumstances.
Bazerman said he refused to make the change and ultimately was allowed to testify May 4. He testified that a court monitor should be appointed to study whether future violations could be prevented by removing senior management.
The Justice Department has argued that America’s six largest tobacco firms lied about dangers of smoking.
Then it stunned activists and members of Congress two weeks ago by announcing in the closing days of the trial that the government would cut its demand for an industry-funded smoking-cessation program from $130 billion to $10 billion.
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