‘Worse Than Watergate’: DOJ Employees Deliver Testimony Against Barr
“Mr. Barr’s work at the Department of Justice has nothing to do with correcting injustice. He is the President’s fixer.”
The House Judiciary Committee opened its investigation into Attorney General William Barr Wednesday with testimony from two current Department of Justice employees, The New York Times reported. Aaron Zelinsky and John Elias delivered prepared remarks and answered questions on Barr’s handling of the case against Roger Stone, unjust treatment of marijuana companies, and politically charged investigations of major automobile manufacturers.
“We’re on the way to something far worse than Watergate,” said former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer. “It’s becoming very transparent many things are being done essentially for reasons that are completely unrelated to the merits of the case.”
Ayer was Barr’s predecessor in 1990 while serving for former President George H. W. Bush. He was one of the officials who appeared before the committee to testify against Barr’s alleged abuse of power that is “totally undermining public trust in the system.”
Politics Affected Stone Case
Zelinsky spoke to the DOJ’s handling of Stone’s case under Barr’s leadership. Stone, a former advisor for President Donald Trump, was sentenced to 40 months in prison after the department amended its sentencing recommendation from an initial request of seven to nine years. Zelinsky was part of the case and withdrew from it when Barr orchestrated a lightened sentence recommendation.
He testified Barr forced US Attorney Jessie Liu from her role and installed Timothy Shea as acting US attorney on the case. Barr pressured Shea into amending the sentence recommendation and he did so out of fear of Trump, Zelinsksy said. DOJ attorneys were threatened with termination if they did not go along with the Trump administration’s plan, he added.
“In the United States of America, we do not prosecute people based on politics and we don’t cut them a break based on politics,” Zelinsky said. “But that wasn’t what happened here. Roger Stone was treated differently because of politics.”
The amended sentencing request was made a day after Trump expressed his outrage at what he called “unjust” treatment of Stone.
“What I heard, repeatedly, was that this leniency was happening because of Stone’s relationship to the President, that the acting US Attorney from the District of Columbia was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice, and his instructions to us were based on political considerations,” Zelinsky said, according to CNN.
Whistleblower Speaks Up
Elias, an attorney who served as chief of staff to Makan Delrahim, head of the antitrust division, briefed legislators on other alleged misconduct by Barr and top brass at the Justice Department. He filed a whistleblower request with the agency’s inspector general, but the department eventually found no wrongdoing.
“Based on what I have seen, and what my colleagues saw and described to me, I was concerned enough to report certain antitrust investigations launched under Attorney General Barr to the Department of Justice Inspector General,” Elias said. “I asked him to investigate whether these matters constituted an abuse of authority, a gross waste of funds, and gross mismanagement.”
Elias recounted two instances he witnessed firsthand which led him to file a whistleblower report. The first was Barr’s brazen attempt to penalize the cannabis industry by subjecting companies to unfair antitrust investigations, Law & Crime reported.
Under Barr’s orders, “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,” Elias said.
Elias testified that he received an investigation to a meeting entitled “Marijuana Industry Merger Review” that took place March 5. Although he did not attend, Elias said a memo was distributed beforehand. Staff comments on the memo indicated the marijuana companies—which included merging companies PharmaCann and MedMen—did not pose a threat to the industry. However, Barr decided to carry on with pursuing antitrust investigations against them because he “did not like the nature of their underlying business.”
Another merger included companies that together accounted for less than 1% of the cannabis market while a third merger involved companies that did not even serve the same geographic regions, Axios reported.
Elias testified that antitrust investigations comprised 29% of the department’s entire slate of merger investigations in 2019, Market Watch reported. The requirements imposed by the Justice Department investigation into the merger of PharmaCann and MedMen resulted in the two companies delivering 1.3 million documents to DOJ officials.
The investigation ultimately concluded in favor of the companies, but by then it was too late; the deal broke apart and MedMen’s stock fell by 33%.
In a second instance, Elias alleged Barr inappropriately directed the Justice Department to investigate four automakers—Honda, Ford Motor, BMW, and Volkswagen—when they agreed to abide by California’s environmental regulations instead of less strict Environmental Protection Agency policies, The New York Times reported.
Elias said the order for a review came the day after Trump tweeted about the automakers.
Barr Set to Testify After Flynn Victory
Barr agreed to testify July 28 in front of the House Judiciary Committee, Kaelyn Polantz reported for CNN. In doing so, he averted a threat of subpoena by House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D–N.Y.
The committee is also seeking testimony from former New York attorney Geoffrey Berman, whom Barr and Trump fired last week. Berman was investigating close associates and former legal counsels of Trump.
“The effort to remove Mr. Berman is part of a clear and dangerous pattern of conduct that began when Mr. Barr took office and continues to this day,” said Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D–N.Y. “Mr. Barr’s actions make clear that, in his Department of Justice, the president’s allies get special treatment, the president’s enemies — real and imagined — are targeted for extra scrutiny and the needs of the American people are generally ignored.”
Barr and the Trump administration did manage to score a major victory on Wednesday when an appeals court ruled for a dismissal in the case of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI about his connections with Russia.
The court ruling, which can be appealed, effectively stole the decision from Judge Emmet Sullivan, who requested legal opinions on whether he should grant the DOJ’s motion to dismiss. Few legal experts agreed with the department’s sudden reversal on the Flynn case considering the overwhelming evidence and guilty pleas he already entered.
“Mr. Barr’s work at the Department of Justice has nothing to do with correcting injustice. He is the President’s fixer,” Nadler said. “He has shown us that there is one set of rules for the President’s friends, and another set of rules for the rest of us.”
The Justice Department celebrated the victory and Republicans on the judiciary committee said it vindicated Barr, The New York Times reported.