DOJ Whistleblower Answers Cicilline’s Questions on AG’s Abuse of Power

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

WASHINGTON – U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01) asked Department of Justice whistleblower John Elias about Attorney General William Barr’s abuse of power by directing the Antitrust Division to take unwarranted actions against auto manufacturers that had agreed to limit their emissions. Click the image below for a video of Cicilline’s remarks. A transcript is embedded below.

David N. Cicilline
House Judiciary Committee
June 17, 2020

Rep. Cicilline:
Thank you Mr. Chairman, Mr. Elias, Mr. Ayer, and Mr. Zelinsky, you are courageous American heroes. Because of you and others like you our Justice Department has been the envy of the world.

Equal Justice is a founding principle of our great country. Justice is done in every case without fear or favor without party or politics and we say in our Pledge of Allegiance, “liberty and justice for all.” Those words mean something.

And in the face of staggering evidence of corruption, of misconduct, of lawlessness, we hear the same refrain from our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, “you just don't like the President.” But of course, the answer is we love our country. We love the rule of law. We love our system of justice. And we love the integrity of the Department of Justice. And we're deeply troubled by the testimony that's being presented today and what it says about this Attorney General and this President.

And so, Mr. Elias, as the Chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee, I'm extremely troubled by the testimony that you have provided that confirms that the Trump administration has weaponized the Department's Antitrust Division to reward friends and punish enemies. For years public reporting has suggested that the Trump administration has been wielding antitrust in this abusive way -- from the AT&T / Time Warner merger which the DOJ sued to block reportedly at the President’s direction -- to the Sprint / T Mobile merger and Disney / Fox transactions, both of which the DOJ smoothly approved despite serious anticompetitive concerns, allegedly due to personal ties that the CEOs and investors had to President Trump. So, Mr. Elias, I have to come back to the facts on why the investigation into four major automakers was ever opened because there seems to be no evidence to support it. In fact, at a Senate hearing last year the Chief of the Antitrust Division told senators, and I quote, “I have nothing,” when he was asked if he had any information of misconduct to justify this investigation of automakers. Your testimony today, seems to confirm without question that there was in fact simply no basis to support the investigation, but I want to be clear. Do you have any evidence that these automakers did anything wrong when they agreed to adhere to California strict admission standards?

Mr. Elias:
I would say they had clear legal defenses for what they were doing under well established antitrust procedures.

Rep. Cicilline:
Was there any evidence that this investigation would in any way help the American people?

Mr. Elias:
I'm not aware of any, no.

Rep. Cicilline:
But there is evidence in your mind that this investigation was opened in bad faith to cater to the President's political whims isn't that correct?

Mr. Elias:
I think the coincidence of time between the President’s tweets and the instruction, the next day to open the investigation can lead to the inference that you're describing.

Rep. Cicilline:
And I'm correct in saying that the investigation was ultimately closed without any evidence of wrongdoing found, correct?

Mr. Elias:
Correct.

Rep. Cicilline:
Now your testimony makes clear to me that this investigation was meritless, it had nothing to do with protecting the American people or American consumers and everything to do with helping the President retaliate against automakers and support the President's feud against a specific state. And what's worse, the Attorney General use taxpayer money to do this. Mr. Elias, you've described an entire division writing a memo, and all staff meeting weeks and weeks of work, given this investigation was clearly not about protecting the interest of the American people, am I correct that it's still required the expenditure of significant resources?

Mr. Elias:
It did require some staff time. Some attorney time, and its use of funds that did not ultimately yield real violation.

Rep. Cicilline:
So rather than pursuing meritless investigations to support the President's personal vendetta the resources could have been used, and better spent elsewhere, do you agree?

Mr. Elias:
I certainly agree. Yes.

Rep. Cicilline:
And finally, Mr. Elias what has been the effect on morale in your division given that the Attorney General is pursuing investigations based on the President's tweets and not on what is best for the American people?

Mr. Elias:
Well, I do know that in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey which surveys employees every year the antitrust division is now ranked 404 out of 420.

Rep. Cicilline:
Thank you. Mr. Ayer, I'd like to turn to you for a moment, the President is of course free to pursue an anti-environment agenda within the confines of the law. But there's a line between the department prioritizing executive policies and prosecuting companies and individuals solely to retaliate against the President's perceived political enemies. Can you please describe the difference between the department prioritizing and administration's policies, and what happened here? And what effect does it have on our justice system and democratic institutions, if the President uses the department to attack those he disagrees with without legal cause?

Mr. Elias:
The whole premise of a system of justice is that it will be brought to bear on the facts as they are, and proceed pursuant to the best assessment that hard thinking and hard work can bring to it in terms of what action is appropriate. And the citizens of the country, need to have trust that things are being done in an even handed way for good reasons. The problem comes when there starts to be a widespread sense of concern or doubt that the government is actually taking, often harsh actions, sometimes punitive and criminal actions, other times civil enforcement actions, and or otherwise in civil cases acting in a way to help someone for special reasons that are totally unrelated to the public interest or any even handed considerations. And then trust breaks down as it did after Watergate, and that's not a place we want to be as a country because order starts to deteriorate.

Rep. Cicilline:
Mr. Chairman I have a unanimous consent request. Thank you Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that this letter signed by over 1,100, former US Attorneys and Justice Department officials both Republicans and Democrats, which strongly condemns President Trump and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the Department of Justice and calls on the Attorney General of the United States to resign.

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