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Transcript: 'Big Tobacco' Prosecutor on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published March 29, 2007 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript from the March 25, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: With the Justice Department already under fire for the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, there were new allegations this week that top officials there interfered in a 2005 lawsuit against big tobacco, pressuring the lead prosecutor for the government to go easy on the companies.
Joining us now, the former government attorney in the case who's making the charges, Sharon Eubanks.
And, Ms. Eubanks, welcome to "Fox News Sunday."
FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY SHARON EUBANKS: Good morning.
WALLACE: You say that your bosses at Justice forced you to do three things, that they asked you to get the witnesses to change their testimony, that they wanted you to drop a demand that some of these corporate executives, big tobacco executives, be removed from their jobs, and also to cut the damages that you were seeking from $130 billion to $10 billion.
And you say this was as the result of political interference. Explain.
EUBANKS: Yes. I mean, the fact is that we had put on substantial evidence to support the government's case, and when it became clear to all that we were going to win, that we had enough evidence to win the case, then that's when the heavy-duty interference began and we were asked to do things like lower the remedy, interfere with the witnesses' testimony and cut back on some of the...
WALLACE: Why? Why would they interfere in a case at the last minute?
EUBANKS: Because if you just let it go on to decision and it's looking like maybe it wouldn't be so bad, you could let justice run its course.
But instead, they interfered and wanted to make it clear that the government was asking for something less than what it was entitled to under the law.
WALLACE: But again, if I may, why? I mean, why would they basically ask you to go easy on big tobacco?
EUBANKS: Well, they wanted to make sure, I believe, that any number that the court came out with was just pocket change for the companies. You'd have to ask them why that was important to them. But that's clear.
WALLACE: Now, when you say heavy-duty pressure, how heavy duty? Again, I understand they forced you to rewrite your closing argument.
EUBANKS: No, they didn't force me to rewrite it. They wrote it. They actually sat down and on the position that we had to take, lowering the remedy — they wrote that. They drafted it and they required me to say it verbatim.
But that all started out with a meeting where they called me up and said, "Let's get together. I want to talk about lowering the amount." I wasn't given the reason at that point in time.
WALLACE: Now, you led the tobacco litigation team for six years. You're forced at the last minute — I assume you were deeply involved in this case — to read word for word what they said. How did that make you feel?
EUBANKS: Well, to quarrel a little bit with the question, it's not about how I feel. It was its effect on the American people, because we were representing the American people in that case.
My feelings in that sense had nothing to do with it. I had a job and an obligation. At that point, when my supervisors are telling me I've got to say something, or basically the fact is I could be removed from the case if I didn't do what they were saying, that was appropriate then, I guess, for me to get up there and to read what they were saying.
They were ultimately in charge of deciding what it was that the government was going to seek.
WALLACE: Now, Ms. Eubanks, the Office of Professional Responsibility, which conducts internal reviews in the Justice Department, looked at these allegations, and here's what they concluded.
And let's put it up on the screen, "Actions in seeking and directing changes in the remedies sought were not influenced by any political considerations, but rather were based on good-faith efforts to obtain remedies from the district court that would be sustainable on appeal."
In effect, OPR, the Office of Professional Responsibility, said your bosses did nothing wrong.
EUBANKS: Well, let's talk about that. The fact is that that's not an independent office. In the first place, Capitol Hill asked the inspector general to look into matters. The inspector general at the department is an independent office.
But the people in OPR, the Office of Professional Responsibility — they report up through the chain, either in fact or certainly in effect, because I had problems with the investigation myself. And I called up the so-called target of the investigation, Robert McCallum, told him about those.
And do you know what he told me? "You know what? I will call Marshall Garrett and I will take care of that for you." That's not in the report.
Furthermore, I was interviewed for an entire day for that OPR report. Not once did they ask about the e-mail exchange between the White House and the Justice Department which I was on. Not one question. It's a whitewash. That's what that is.
WALLACE: And very briefly, what was in the e-mail exchanges? Is there something significant there?
EUBANKS: Yes, it was. After the announcement of the reduction in the amount sought came about, there was a lot of furor from the press. Everyone started asking questions.
So the response that the department had was they wanted to do an op-ed for a newspaper. In this case it turned out to be USA Today.
Robert McCallum was drafting it, and he was sending his draft over to the White House, taking their edits and their remarks and putting it together for the reason why this happened.
WALLACE: Now, one thing you're neglecting to mention is that prior to the alleged interference, there was a ruling by an appeals court that basically said that you couldn't go after the tobacco companies, as you were in this $130 billion, for past profits.
And in fact, when the ruling finally came down from the judge in your case, and she ruled in your favor, she said, "Not only can't you get the $130 billion, I can't even order the $10 billion."
So in effect, weren't your bosses — when they asked you to reduce the amount you were seeking, weren't they simply following what the appeals court judge said? Weren't they following the law?
EUBANKS: Absolutely not. If you look at the first decision of the Court of Appeals, that was February 4th. Immediately following that decision, the judge gave the government an opportunity to revamp, if you will, its position on remedies in light of the direction received from the Court of Appeals.
The administration folks weighed in and allowed us to put on the evidence of the smoking cessation. Look closely at those opinions, Chris, because they're not about how much. They're about whether you could apply or not.
And it's really important here that right now in the same Justice Department a decision is coming up on what to do about the government's position on appeal.
So there is an opportunity, a chance, for the Justice Department to review this matter and to do what's right rather than...
WALLACE: But the fact is the judge in your case, when she ruled in your favor, wouldn't even give the $10 billion, let alone the $130 billion, right?
EUBANKS: She refused to allow a remedy for smoking cessation which the Justice Department did not back off from — you can get a remedy for smoking cessation. They just said the amount you're seeking is too much, for political reasons. And that's exactly my point.
Right now on appeal, the question is what will the government do with respect to that remedy, notwithstanding what the lower court has said, insofar as our ability to obtain that remedy.
WALLACE: You were a career lawyer for justice. You didn't just come in. You weren't a political appointee of the Bush administration. In fact, you started in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan.
Was the atmosphere when it came to political considerations different under this president?
EUBANKS: It was different under this president than under any other president that I had served. In fact, the career people were edged out on a lot of the decision-making processes.
I never even met General Gonzales during my time at the Justice Department. And I'm working on the largest civil case that they've ever prosecuted. I mean, that's highly unusual.
The fact is that career people and their positions were something that this Department of Justice has not demonstrated that it's particularly interested in.
WALLACE: We have about 30 seconds left. Do you see some connection between your experience and what happened with the U.S. attorneys?
EUBANKS: Yes. I don't serve at the pleasure of the president, and most of the people who work at the department don't. But they're being interfered with every day in their work.
WALLACE: Ms. Eubanks, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for coming in today and talking with us.
EUBANKS: Thank you.
This week: We'll have an exclusive interview with Sen James Lankford (R-OK), member of the Appropriations, Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees.