Jun 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

DOJ whistleblower to allege political interference in antitrust probes

Bill Barr

Photo: Doug MIlls-Pool/Getty Images

A career Justice Department lawyer will testify to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that political leaders in the agency's antitrust division initiated a probe of four automakers' carbon emissions agreement with California a day after President Trump tweeted criticisms of the preliminary deal.

Driving the news: John Elias, one of two whistleblowers testifying in Wednesday's hearing about political interference at the Justice Department, says in prepared testimony that the since-abandoned probe into Ford, BMW, Honda and VW initiated on Aug. 22, 2019, did not follow the typical procedures.

  • "Ordinarily, decisions of import — here, an investigation of a $630 billion automobile market — take time and care to evaluate, especially when the action would face defenses. Here, in its opening memorandum, staff acknowledged that it had not fully examined the public record," Elias states.

Why it matters: Makan Delrahim, the head of the DOJ's antitrust division, has previously denied the probe was undertaken for political reasons. The department did not provide immediate comment Tuesday.

  • Elias' statement provides new details about the inquiry into automakers who reached an agreement with California regulators to meet emissions standards for their nationwide fleets that are more stringent than Trump administration policy.

The details: His testimony says the initiating paperwork was generated by the division's policy staff and that enforcement staff "expressed concerns about the legal and factual basis for the investigation" once they received the matter.

  • He adds that enforcement staff sought time to conduct their own analysis and "requested a delay in going overt with the investigation."
  • But the investigation went ahead anyway, with Delrahim personally writing to the automakers to inform them that the DOJ was examining their arrangement with California, Elias said.

The big picture: Elias will also testify that at the direction of Attorney General Bill Barr, the antitrust division launched 10 full-scale reviews of merger activity taking place in the cannabis industry that did not meet "established criteria for antitrust investigations."

  • "The rationale for doing so centered not on an antitrust analysis, but because [Barr] did not like the nature of their underlying business," Elias claims.

Read his full opening statement via DocumentCloud.

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