Bush Wants to Settle Tobacco Case
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Bush administration is seeking to settle a protracted civil suit seeking billions of dollars in damages against the tobacco industry, government officials said Tuesday.
Concerned about the strength of the government's case, the administration wants to forge a settlement now rather than risk losing later, said sources who discussed the case only on grounds of anonymity.
The decision was based at least in part on a decision last year by the federal judge handling the case. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler threw out two counts which would have allowed the government to recover some expenses related to sick smokers.
In filing the suit in September 1999, the Justice Department, then under the leadership of Attorney General Janet Reno, said federal health care plans spend more than $20 billion a year treating smoking-related illnesses.
Officials said Attorney General John Ashcroft has assembled a team of three lawyers, all career attorneys in the department's civil division, to work on the settlement.
The lawyers were meeting for the first time Tuesday with the department's tobacco litigation team to begin talking about a potential settlement, sources said.
Officials emphasized that the department was not abandoning the lawsuit, saying it would continue to litigate the case even while pursuing a settlement agreement.
The recommendation to seek a settlement was made to Ashcroft by Stuart Schiffer, head of the department's Civil Division.