According to testimony released on Tuesday, John Elias, a career department employee, will highlight Barr’s perceived motivations behind the department’s multiple investigations into mergers in the cannabis industry.
He asserts that 29% of the Antitrust Division’s merger probes targeted the cannabis industry, citing Barr’s explanation for pursuing one such investigation in March 2019.
“Rejecting the analysis of career staff, Attorney General Barr ordered the Antitrust Division to issue Second Request subpoenas,” Elias said, referencing the division’s most comprehensive type of merger probe. “The rationale for doing so centered not on an antitrust analysis, but because he did not like the nature of their underlying business.”
Elias also suggests that multiple people in the division were aware of Barr’s anti-cannabis inclinations, and that in many cases the mergers were documented by department staff as appearing “unlikely to raise significant competitive concerns.”
During an all-staff meeting in September 2019, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, the head of the Antitrust Division, “acknowledged that the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular ‘on the fifth floor,’ a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices in the DOJ headquarters building,” Elias wrote. “Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation.”
“The day after the tweets, Antitrust Division political leadership instructed staff to initiate an investigation that day,” Elias wrote.
During an all-staff meeting in September, Delrahim “stated that staff was not rushed into initiating the investigation,” Elias added. “That representation conflicted with the recollection of a staff member who had assisted with the opening memorandum.”
The memo initiating the investigation did not include a staff recommendation, “was generated by the Division’s policy staff, which does not conduct enforcement investigations of this type” and indicated that staff “had not fully examined the public record,” he wrote.
Additionally, Delrahim proceeded with investigation even though “enforcement staff asked for time to perform their own analysis and requested a delay in going overt with the investigation,” Elias said.
CNN’s Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.