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CBS Rebuts Tobacco Firm Claim

February 16, 1996|From Reuters

NEW YORK — CBS Inc. told a judge Thursday that Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. does not need the confidential information it is trying to force from "60 Minutes" journalists about the tobacco company's former research chief turned whistle-blower.

The network is seeking a ruling that would throw out subpoenas issued to television news show veterans Mike Wallace and Morley Safer and others about a controversial interview with former B&W executive Jeffrey Wigand.

Louisville, Ky.-based B&W has sued Wigand in Kentucky state court, alleging he violated a confidentiality agreement that prohibits him from revealing company secrets. CBS is not a defendant in the suit.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Robert Lippmann said he will rule on CBS' motion next week.

Separately on Thursday, U.S. Deputy Atty. Gen. Jamie S. Gorelick said the Justice Department has launched a number of separate criminal investigations involving the tobacco industry. "There are several different sources of investigative activities.

Gorelick said the Justice Department was monitoring the various investigations, but they were not being run out of the agency's headquarters. The probes mostly were being handled by local federal prosecutors.

Department officials previously have confirmed they are investigating whether tobacco industry officials committed perjury during 1994 congressional testimony by denying that nicotine was addictive.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into a tobacco company's testimony about the effects of secondhand smoke.

A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., sent subpoenas to at least three of the nation's largest tobacco companies for information about Healthy Buildings International, tobacco companies said. Fairfax, Va.-based HBI inspects buildings for indoor air quality and also has testified numerous times on behalf of the tobacco industry about the impact of secondhand smoke on indoor air quality.

The investigation is looking into whether HBI, also a longtime consultant to the tobacco industry, defrauded officials by portraying itself in testimony as an independent researcher and playing down the risks of secondhand smoke, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The dispute between B&W and CBS centers on the network's relationship with Wigand, the highest-ranking tobacco executive to turn against the industry.

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