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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

We don't prosecute our friends

From the Department of Just Us we get one more story of corruption:

The night before the government secured a guilty plea from the manufacturer of the addictive painkiller OxyContin, a senior Justice Department official called the U.S. attorney handling the case and, at the behest of an executive for the drugmaker, urged him to slow down, the prosecutor told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.

John L. Brownlee, the U.S. attorney in Roanoke, testified that he was at home the evening of Oct. 24 when he received the call on his cellphone from Michael J. Elston, then chief of staff to the deputy attorney general and one of the Justice aides involved in the removal of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

Brownlee settled the case anyway. Eight days later, his name appeared on a list compiled by Elston of prosecutors that officials had suggested be fired.

Brownlee ultimately kept his job. But as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales confronts withering criticism over the dismissals, the episode in the OxyContin case provides fresh evidence of efforts by senior officials in the department's headquarters to sway the work of U.S. attorneys' offices.


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