Pres. Trump’s nominee to replace Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein may face questions from the Senate about a Justice Department case involving Johnson & Johnson, TYT has learned.
The company revealed on Wednesday that it is cooperating with subpoenas issued by the DOJ, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission, related to lawsuits alleging asbestos content in Johnson & Johnson body powder products.
Trump’s DOJ nominee, Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen — already facing criticism due to a paucity of relevant experience — worked for a legal firm that has represented Johnson & Johnson. Rosen also has ties to at least two advocacy groups that work to limit people’s legal ability to pursue and win liability awards against manufacturers and other companies like Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson’s defense in at least one lawsuit alleging harm caused by asbestos in its body powder was provided by Kirkland & Ellis. Rosen spent most of his career, 30 years, at the firm.
If confirmed as deputy attorney general, Rosen will oversee DOJ’s criminal and civil divisions, including not just the Johnson & Johnson case but other cases involving liability lawsuits.
Referring to the DOJ investigation of Johnson & Johnson, one Senate Judiciary Committee staffer told TYT, “I would expect something like that to come up during the confirmation process.” Whether that happens, however, could be affected by the extent of Rosen’s ties to Johnson & Johnson.
The asbest suit was filed in March 2018, about one year after Rosen left Kirkland & Ellis to serve at the Dept. of Transportation. Kirkland & Ellis did not immediately respond to a TYT email asking whether the firm represented Johnson & Johnson prior to that suit and whether Rosen did any work for the company.
Regardless of the timing, Rosen has related experience that could bring the same issues to the fore.
His 2017 disclosure form indicates he performed at least $5000 worth of legal work for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), a leading advocate for curbing the ability of individuals to pursue large, punitive settlements in product liability and other cases.
Over the years, various Johnson & Johnson executives have served on ILR’s board, including in 2016, roughly the same time Rosen worked for ILR, according to ILR’s most recent tax forms. The forms show that the ILR board at the time included both Johnson & Johnson intellectual property counsel Robert DeBerardine and Kirkland & Ellis attorney Thomas Gottschalk.
As part of Rosen’s 2017 confirmation process, then-Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) submitted questions in writing, asking him to detail his work for ILR. Rosen’s answer, in full, said, “To the best of my recollection and available records, I have advised ILR from time to time about various Federal statutes and legal requirements, and of legal developments in the courts.”
Rosen also disclosed ownership by him and his wife of between $2000 and $30,000 worth of Johnson & Johnson stock, which he divested within a month of his confirmation. He also reported sitting on the advisory board of another advocacy group, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)
Like ILR, the NFIB has worked to roll back the ability of individuals to win large jury awards against big companies, specifically including asbestos cases.
During the Bush Administration, Rosen served as general counsel in the Transportation Department and reportedly said he played a role in blocking or ending 180 rules. New rules that he did oversee were said to favor industry over consumers. One rule made it tougher to sue car makers when weak vehicle roofs led to injuries or even death in rollovers.
In last year’s civil case against Johnson & Johnson, Kirkland & Ellis successfully defended them. The jury found that the company’s baby powder did contain asbestos, but not that it was enough to cause the plaintiff’s mesothelioma.
Speaking on Rosen’s behalf, DOJ spokesperson Sarah Sutton declined to comment.
Jonathan Larsen is TYT's managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.
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