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Kessler, Koop Refuse To Testify

March 5, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Food and Drug Commissioner David Kessler and former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop have reportedly refused to testify at a House committee hearing on tobacco legislation, saying they don’t want to be questioned under oath.

Being sworn to tell the truth would put them ``on some sort of parity″ with five tobacco executives who testified in January, Kessler and Koop said in a letter to Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., who chairs the House Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on health.

``We have each devoted much of our professional careers to ... working for the public health,″ Koop and Kessler wrote. ``We see no reason for the committee to suggest that our testimony about tobacco now requires that we be ... treated akin to tobacco executives.″

House rules give committees some latitude in determining whether witnesses must be sworn. When tobacco executives testified in January before Bilirakis’ panel, they were sworn in with much fanfare. But major government witnesses have not had to take an oath before giving their testimony.

A federal grand jury is now investigating whether tobacco executives committed perjury in their testimony in years past before congressional committees about their knowledge of tobacco’s effect on health and the addictiveness of nicotine.

A source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post, that Bilirakis’ subcommittee has tried to keep the treatment of witnesses ``parallel.″

But Kessler and Koop, who also objected to being part of a five-witness panel, disagreed. Since leaving the government, both former officials have become central critics of the tobacco industry.

``Getting to a consensus″ on tobacco policy ``is hard,″ Kessler told the Post. It would be easier if it was done in a ``hospitable environment,″ he said.