Senators question whether Giuliani's influence scored Purdue Pharma leniency from feds

Two senators are questioning whether the Department of Justice was inappropriately lenient in its treatment of Purdue Pharma over mismarketing of OxyContin. (skpy/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)(skpy on Flickr)

As President Donald Trump and his administration work to tackle the opioid epidemic, two Democratic senators are looking into whether his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani secured leniency for opioid maker Purdue Pharma through conflicts of interest.

In letters to the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement agency, Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., are requesting documents detailing info about Purdue Pharma’s interactions with the agencies in the 2000s when it was under investigation for its OxyContin promotions. The senators seek to learn whether “potential conflicts of interest” secured the company “inappropriately lenient treatment.” 

Giuliani represented Purdue Pharma in its dealings with the Department of Justice over the marketing probe, and at the same time his firm worked for the DOJ under a $1 million consulting contract, the senators said in their letters to the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Agency, citing a report from the New York Times. Additionally, Giuliani personally raised money for a DEA museum, according to the letters.

The facts suggest DOJ officials “may have agreed to an inappropriately lenient treatment of Purdue Pharma simply because it was represented by Mr. Giuliani,” the senators wrote. 

“The public health consequences of that decision may have been immense, and deserve greater scrutiny by Congress and DOJ,” they added. 

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According to the letters, Giuliani convinced political appointees at the Department of Justice to reject career prosecutors’ recommendations in the opioid marketing case. As a result, the company entered a guilty plea to “misbranding” OxyContin, its powerful painkiller. Under the deal, the senators also said Giuliani convinced DOJ to assign fault to Purdue Frederick, a holding company, to allow Purdue Pharma to continue to do business with the federal government. Purdue paid $640 million under the agreement in 2007.

Now, the senators are requesting information about communications between the parties, whether DOJ employees raised concerns about the deal, plus documents about the investigations and more. 

The requests come as the Trump Administration works to combat the opioid epidemic. Earlier this month, Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to bring “a major lawsuit” against opioid makers “that are really sending opioids at a level that it shouldn’t be happening,” according to a White House transcript.

The Department of Justice has already supported hundreds of lawsuits against the companies by cities and counties, but Trump urged Session to bring a lawsuit from the federal government. Sessions responded that the DOJ is “looking at various, different legal avenues to go after abusive companies.”

Trump in October declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency. Back in March, the administration unveiled a plan to roll out tougher law enforcement measures to crack down on drug dealing, as well as proposals to cut opioid prescriptions by one third over three years. And this month, the DOJ and DEA proposed cutting production quotas for top opioids by 10% in 2019.