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Attorney General Bill Barr. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Justice Department (DOJ) has opened an antitrust inquiry into 4 major automakers who recently struck a deal with California to boost emissions standards for their nationwide fleets, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The report, if correct, signals the opening of a new and high-stakes front in the fight between California and the White House over vehicle emissions and mileage rules.

Where it stands: The WSJ reports that DOJ is seeking to determine if Ford, VW, Honda and BMW "violated federal competition law by agreeing with each other to follow tailpipe-emissions standards beyond those proposed by the Trump administration."

The story cites anonymous sources familiar with the matter. DOJ declined to comment.

The big picture: The reported probe comes as the Trump administration is preparing to freeze Obama-era carbon emissions and mileage standards, rather than allowing them to grow significantly stronger through the mid-2020s.

One big question: Whether the prospect of facing an antitrust probe could deter other automakers from joining the pact with California.

Quick take: The development deepens the complexity of the regulatory battle for automakers. The industry chafed at Obama-era rules, calling them too strict, but does not support President Trump's effort to freeze the standards outright.

The industry hopes to avoid having to make cars for a split U.S. market in which California, the largest U.S. market, and roughly a dozen states that follow its lead have one set of rules that are different than the federal standards.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

9 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.