He also said that the cannabis company 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 marijuana 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 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.”
The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility had already investigated Mr. Elias’s concerns about the cannabis company merger reviews 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 poses for federal and state regulators, the department reasonably sought out additional information from the industry.
Democrats are threatening to subpoena Barr, too.
Wednesday’s testimony is a linchpin in a broader attempt by House Democrats to scrutinize the Justice Department under Mr. Barr. The relationship between the two sides soured long ago, when Mr. Barr refused to comply with Judiciary Committee requests related to the special counsel’s Russia report, but in recent months, Democrats have looked on with increasing alarm as the attorney general has tried to undercut some of the report’s key findings and even prosecutions it spawned.
In addition to this week’s hearing, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, is trying to secure testimony from Geoffrey S. Berman, the New York prosecutor fired last week by Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr, who has overseen politically sensitive investigations into the president’s past and current lawyers. He may also move later this week to subpoena Mr. Barr himself to testify, though the attorney general would almost certainly resist.
Democrats have said they feel compelled to shine a light on perceived abuses at the department, but with a presidential election looming and the impeachment of Mr. Trump behind them, even they admit there are unlikely to be the kind of severe repercussions lawmakers once contemplated.