“At the direction of Attorney General Barr, the antitrust division launched 10 full-scale reviews of merger activity taking place in the marijuana, or cannabis, industry” because the attorney general “did not like the nature of their underlying business,” Mr. Elias said in written testimony.
Mr. Elias also said that the department initiated a review of four major automakers the day after Mr. Trump said on Twitter that he was enraged by the news that the companies would adhere to higher fuel emissions standards than the federal government demands.
Under questioning by Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the panel’s antitrust subcommittee, Mr. Elias said he was “not aware” of any evidence at the time that the investigation would have served the public, and that it was clear throughout that the automakers “had clear legal defenses for what they were doing.”
In Mr. Elias’s account, the marijuana industry reviews consumed the antitrust division, making up nearly a third of all of its cases in the fiscal year that ended in September. He said that staff members objected to the numerous requests for information that the department sent to the companies, in large part because they were seen as harassing and overly burdensome.
Mr. Elias, who served as chief of staff to Makan Delrahim, the head of the antitrust division, said that during a meeting in September, Mr. Delrahim “acknowledged at an all-staff meeting that the cannabis industry is unpopular ‘on the fifth floor,’ a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices.”
The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigated Mr. Elias’s concerns about the reviews of mergers in the cannabis industry and determined that the division “acted reasonably and appropriately,” according to an email sent to the division and obtained by The New York Times.
The office also found that given the “unique challenge” that the nascent cannabis industry posed for federal and state regulators, the department reasonably sought out additional information from the industry.