Bill Barr: DOJ whistleblower to testify that Barr’s personal anti-marijuana sentiment fueled cannabis industry investigations

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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.”

Taken together, the accounts from Elias and Mueller team lawyer Aaron Zelinsky — who will also appear Wednesday, to testify that longtime adviser Roger Stone was “treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President” — tell a consistent story of notable political abuse across the Justice Department. The two accounts reinforce each other, despite coming from two separate Department of Justice teams overseen by different political appointees.
Ex-Stone prosecutor says Stone treated differently 'because of his relationship to the President'

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.”

Elias’ testimony also asserts that the Justice Department launched an anti-trust probe in August 2019 after President Donald Trump tweeted his anger over a deal struck between automakers and California to comply with stricter emissions standards despite the Trump administration’s plans to roll back the rules.

“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.

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