WASHINGTON -- A top Justice Department official threatened to remove a government specialist from its witness list if he did not water down his recommended penalties for the tobacco industry, the witness said in an interview yesterday.
Max Bazerman, a business professor at Harvard University, said a career trial attorney told him senior Justice officials wanted him to change his recommendation that the court appoint a monitor to review whether it was appropriate to remove senior tobacco company officials.
Bazerman said the attorney was passing along a ''strong request" the week before Bazerman was to take the stand on May 4 in the government's landmark racketeering case against the industry. The government contends the tobacco 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 the career lawyers on the case -- had come from Justice Department attorney Frank Marine and Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr.
Bazerman declined to name the attorney, saying he was concerned the person could face retaliation from superiors. Bazerman said the attorney told him McCallum had threatened to prohibit him from testifying if he did not alter his testimony.
Bazerman said he was asked to say appointing a monitor to consider removing senior management would probably be legally inappropriate under certain circumstances. Bazerman said he refused to make the change and was ultimately allowed to testify May 4.
''I would have felt I was lying under oath, and I couldn't do that," Bazerman said. ''I thought then, and I believe now, that it was inappropriate influence to weaken the government's case against the tobacco industry."
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said yesterday that Bazerman's interpretation of the government's motives was inaccurate but he declined to give the government's reasons.
In the six-year lawsuit, the Justice Department has argued that America's six largest tobacco companies lied about the dangers of smoking. The department stunned antismoking activists and members of Congress two weeks ago by announcing in the closing days of the eight-month trial that the government would cut its demand for an industry-funded smoking cessation program from $130 billion to $10 billion.