Media Contacts: Nick Schwellenbach, Director of Investigations at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-347-1122; or Tim Farnsworth, Chief Communications Strategist at POGO, email@example.com or 202-550-9402.
(WASHINGTON)—Top Justice Department appointees overruled career prosecutors who were on the brink of bringing a felony charge this spring against the biotech giant Monsanto for illegally spraying a banned, highly toxic pesticide and nerve agent in Hawaii.
A new investigation by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), published jointly with Yahoo News, reveals this previously unreported case based on a review of an internal government document and accounts from sources familiar with the matter.
Monsanto instructed its Washington lawyers to contact top Justice Department officials and get them to stop the felony case, according to POGO’s reporting.
A key player on Monsanto’s legal team is Alice S. Fisher, a former high-level Justice Department official. She helped orchestrate Monsanto’s pitch to the office of then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, sources close to the matter told POGO. Then, after consulting with the top Justice political appointee on environmental law, Rosenstein’s office decided to overrule prosecutors and enforcement officials who had long been working on the case, and “directed” career prosecutors to pursue "misdemeanors only,” rather than a felony, according to the government document reviewed by POGO.
POGO’s investigation also details other cases where officials at Main Justice in Washington overruled career prosecutors.
More than a decade ago, when she was head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Fisher allegedly played a role in keeping Jeffrey Epstein’s controversial plea deal secret from his victims after Epstein’s attorneys appealed to her to stop victim notification letters from going out, according to an April 2008 letter by Kenneth Starr, then an attorney for Epstein. Fisher categorically denies she played a decision-making role regarding victim notification.
“The practice of top Justice Department officials overruling career prosecutors disproportionately benefits the most well-connected corporations and individuals. For our system of justice to be equitable, the Justice Department needs to establish clear guidelines preventing this abuse of power,” said Danielle Brian, executive director at Project On Government Oversight.
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing.
We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.