The lead attorney in the government's landmark racketeering case against the tobacco industry retired from the Justice Department yesterday, saying her politically appointed bosses showed little support for her or her team's work on the case.
Sharon Y. Eubanks had led a group of career government lawyers who this summer recommended a $130 billion penalty against the tobacco industry, in part to fund smoking-cessation programs for millions of Americans. Her supervisors, appointees at the department, scaled back the proposal to $10 billion.
The shift triggered an uproar in Congress during the closing days of the tobacco trial in June, when requests from lawmakers prompted an investigation into whether there was political interference.
In the unprecedented six-year-old lawsuit, the government alleged that the United States' largest tobacco firms engaged in a half-century-long conspiracy to conceal the health hazards of smoking and to hook new generations on the habit. A judge has yet to rule.
Eubanks had privately urged her bosses not to cut the recommended penalties against the industry. In an interview yesterday, she declined to discuss internal deliberations. But she said she voluntarily decided to end her 22-year career at the Justice Department after some of her bosses effectively prevented her from receiving a bonus by declining to give her a performance appraisal. She said she had received outstanding ratings in all categories the previous year.
"The political appointees to whom I report made this an easy decision," Eubanks said. "My work on the case has been extraordinarily rewarding professionally, and it has been a privilege to represent the United States in the case. However, my current supervisors, in particular Dan Meron, Pete Keisler and Robert McCallum, have been somewhat less than supportive of the team's efforts."
McCallum is an associate attorney general and was a key player in recommending the reduced penalty, several sources have said. Keisler is the assistant attorney general for the civil division, and Meron is his deputy. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said department officials could not comment, citing Privacy Act restrictions on discussing personnel matters.
Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.