WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration and cigarette makers stand so far apart in efforts to settle a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against the tobacco industry that the Justice Department has shelved further negotiations for now, a senior department official said Wednesday.
With the talks seemingly deadlocked, the department now plans to seek significantly expanded funding to pay for the lawyers and resources needed to pursue the landmark litigation, Stuart Schiffer, an acting assistant attorney general, told a Senate panel.
Schiffer's remarks were meant to answer sharp attacks from Democrats on Capitol Hill who charge that Bush administration officials are looking for a way to abandon the lawsuit, which was initiated in 1999 by then-President Clinton.
The Bush administration's pledge to pursue the lawsuit did little to convince skeptics.
"The Department of Justice's management of this case seems unprofessional at best. At worst, they are killing this lawsuit and don't have the political courage to admit it publicly," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who led Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Durbin noted that Attorney General John Ashcroft, who opposed litigation against the tobacco industry while serving in the Senate, declined an invitation to appear before the judiciary panel, citing scheduling conflicts.
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