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A Washington nonprofit got the man it wanted last week in its ongoing fight with the Justice Department over tobacco litigation. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington deposed former Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum on July 18 over why the agency has been unable to fulfill the group’s request for documents related to the litigation. The group made Freedom of Information Act requests regarding the DOJ’s decision in June 2005 to lower its proposed settlement with a group of tobacco companies from $130 billion to $10 billion, a move that ignited outrage among career attorneys on the case. The group seeks correspondence between the Justice Department and the White House and McCallum’s former law firm, Alston & Bird. At the deposition, which was held at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, McCallum recalled little about the FOIA request, but CREW attorney Anne Weismann took the opportunity to probe his contact with White House officials over the decision. “I don’t remember ever receiving any directive from the White House about anything that had to do with the tobacco case,” McCallum said, according to a transcript. The exchange grew testy when Weismann tried to ask about certain e-mails and documents related to such contacts. Justice Department attorney Lisa Olson objected to the inclusion of those documents, which she said appeared to be “purloined from the government” and could be privileged. U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay, who oversaw the deposition, said the material would remain sealed until Judge Emmet Sullivan hears the case July 26. But two days later, an Associated Press article quoted what appeared to be some of those e-mails, which showed McCallum had contact with the White House in preparing an op-ed in USA Today explaining the decision to seek a reduced settlement. The article did not say how the material was obtained, but quoted Sharon Eubanks, formerly the government’s lead attorney for the tobacco case, who now works at CREW. (She is recused from this case.) The DOJ called the leak an “apparent violation” of the agreement to keep the material secret.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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