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Photo: Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images

A career Justice Department official named John Elias today will testify that Attorney General William Barr directed improper antitrust reviews of marijuana industry mergers, because of his personal animus toward cannabis.

Why it matters: This isn't the first time that President Trump's DOJ has been accused of letting bias drive antitrust decisions. But it's the first time that a DOJ attorney is the one making the allegations, and it could have consequences for antitrust investigations into other industries.

Resumé: John Elias joined DOJ in 2006 under President Bush, and served as the Antitrust Division's chief of staff between January 2017 and October 2018. He currently is an Antitrust Division prosecutor.

  • He is one of three federal prosecutors testifying today in front of the House Judiciary Committee as whistleblowers, alleging abuses of power (among other things).

What Elias claims, per his opening statement:

"At the direction of Attorney General Barr, the Antitrust Division launched ten full-scale reviews of merger activity taking place in the marijuana, or cannabis, industry. These mergers involve companies with low market shares in a fragmented industry; they do 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."

Details: Elias says that marijuana-related investigations accounted for 29% of full-review merger investigations in fiscal 2019.

  • Among the mergers reviewed was one between MedMen and PharmaCann.
  • In one instance, the merging companies would have a combined market share of 0.35%.
  • In another, the merging companies operated in different geographies and didn't compete at all.
  • Elias also will allege political interference related to an automaker agreement on carbon emissions.

The bottom line: House hearings often devolve into partisan speechifying, rather than sincere searches for the truth. But what gets said today will be filed away by companies and their attorneys, particularly in Big Tech, if and when their future mergers get challenged by Trump's DOJ.

Go deeper

Sep 18, 2020 - Technology

Exclusive: FTC commissioner on data privacy, antitrust, Section 230

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Republican member of the Federal Trade Commission Noah Phillips intends to stay at the agency through the end of his term, which is up in about three years, and has not yet decided what happens after, he told Axios during a taping of C-Span's "The Communicators" this week.

Why it matters: Phillips is one of three Republicans serving on the five-member agency, along with Chairman Joe Simons and Republican commissioner Christine Wilson. Their perspective holds sway at an agency that is pursuing big tech more aggressively than in the past, but still moves meticulously when bringing antitrust cases.

3 hours ago - Technology

TikTok drives new nostalgia economy

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Older brands, trends and technologies are making a comeback as younger consumers desperately chase slower, less chaotic times.

The big picture: TikTok's algorithm makes it easy for flashback items to resurface and quickly go viral both on its platform and eventually on other social networks.

Updated 7 hours ago - World

Reports: Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and were due to travel to another destination when the gang struck in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.

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