More than a decade ago, OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma approached Rudy Giuliani, then fresh off a stint as the lauded mayor of New York City, asking for help: The little-known pharmaceutical company needed a trusted lawyer to help fight growing public relations and legal battles. It was 2002, and Purdue was facing its first lawsuits accusing the company of underplaying the addictive effects of its signature drug. By the time Purdue sought Giuliani’s guidance, he was reportedly helping raise money for a museum dedicated to the Drug Enforcement Administration and his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, was consulting the Justice Department on reorganizing its major drug investigations.
Purdue employed Giuliani Partners for years, clad with its founder’s shiny post-9/11 reputation and political connections. When a federal investigation in the mid-2000s threatened company executives with the prospect of felonies and jail time, the firm helped Purdue’s top brass get off with misdemeanor “misbranding” convictions and community service in 2007. Purdue Pharma’s parent company, Purdue Frederick, pleaded guilty to a misbranding felony that cost it $600 million, but Giuliani helped strike a deal that enabled Purdue Pharma to continue selling its blockbuster painkiller OxyContin. “Among Mr. Giuliani’s missions was the job of convincing public officials that they could trust Purdue because they could trust him,” as the New York Times put it that year.
Recent developments cast a new light on the arrangement: Today, Giuliani serves as President Donald Trump’s lawyer, and Purdue Pharma is largely viewed as responsible for helping sow the seeds of the current overdose epidemic, which killed roughly 72,000 Americans last year.
On Wednesday, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent letters to the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration requesting information on the respective agencies’ contact with Giuliani Partners. The letters, shared with Mother Jones, draw heavily on a recent New York Times investigation finding that federal prosecutors knew about OxyContin’s widespread abuse and originally recommended that Purdue executives be charged with felonies, including conspiracy to defraud the United States. But top Justice Department officials in the George W. Bush administration pushed back—deciding instead to settle the case in 2007 rather than take it to trial. The letters also cite investigations suggesting that Giuliani used his political connections to influence the relatively lenient outcome of the federal suit, as well as the lax approach the Drug Enforcement Administration took in curbing misuse of the drug.
In addition to asking for documentation of communications between the federal agencies and Giuliani Partners, the letters ask pointed questions about Giuliani himself, such as “What steps were taken to ensure that Giuliani’s other relationships with DOJ and its components did not improperly influence plea negotiations?”
In recent years, dozens of states and municipalities have filed lawsuits against opioid makers and distributors including Purdue, alleging that the overdose epidemic has caused a strain on public resources. Last week, Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to bring a separate, “major lawsuit” against opioid companies.
“Given that Mr. Giuliani has emerged as one of the President’s closest advisors, it’s important that we determine whether his past work on behalf of Purdue, a company that misled prescribers and patients alike about the addictive nature of its drug OxyContin, will influence this administration’s actions in terms of holding Purdue accountable for the devastating impact of its aggressive marketing of this drug,” wrote Ricki Eshman, Hassan’s press secretary.
Read the full letters below: