Impeachment is once again being discussed in the marble halls of the U.S. Capitol. Only this time it’s not in regard to President Donald Trump. This time the effort, which is still just in the early information gathering stage, is aimed at Attorney General William Barr for allegedly using the gravitas of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to target cannabis firms.
While the resolution to authorize an impeachment inquiry against Barr only came out last week, more than three dozen House Democrats have now signed onto it. That’s a lot of support – even if one sided (which is par for the course in today’s hyper-partisan Washington) – to garner in just a few days. It’s picked up steam because the allegations against Barr are so shocking.
Last week, two DOJ lawyers turned whistleblowers when they testified to the House Judiciary Committee that AG Barr is using the department to drive his personal agenda. DOJ lawyer John Elias, a 14-year veteran of the department, told lawmakers Barr has targeted cannabis firms, and even personally intervened – going over the heads of nonpolitical, career department lawyers – in attempts to derail numerous potential marijuana industry mergers.
“That’s really disturbing,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told The News Station.
He signed onto the resolution calling for an impeachment inquiry. Besides, these allegations potentially rising to the level of a “high crime or misdemeanor,” to Swalwell, the targeted focus on cannabis firms is noteworthy. The notion that America’s most powerful law enforcement official would use a personal grudge as the basis for interfering in private sector mergers in a rapidly expanding industry that the federal government still refuses to recognize is appalling and immoral.
“There’s such a conflict between what is allowed state and locally and what’s happening with the federal government, and so it’s bad enough that there’s a conflict in taxes and banking but now that there’s also targeted prosecutions, that’s a real concern,” Swalwell said.
The impeachment inquiry resolution is being spearheaded by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) who isn’t mincing words.
“Attorney General Barr has undermined our judicial system and perverted the rule of law,” Cohen issued in a press release announcing his resolution. “Barr obstructs justice by favoring the President’s friends and political allies. He abuses his power by using the Department of Justice to harass, intimidate and attack disfavored Americans and the President’s political opponents. My oath to support and defend the Constitution compels me to confront this corruption.”
While the DOJ whistleblower says Barr directed department lawyers to look into 10 mergers, so far data’s only available for six of them. The documents reveal the soul, if not potentially business, crushing hoops and hurdles these cannabis firms were forced to go through: 5,965,000 documents had to be produced to justify the proposed mergers. That’s only because Barr allegedly redirected the DOJ Antitrust Division to focus on marijuana firms, which the whistleblower says ended up consuming 29 percent of the division’s merger resources.
While he hasn’t endorsed the impeachment inquiry, House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler is alarmed by the allegations and is keeping impeachment on the table as his committee continues its investigation.
“Of course it’s disturbing. That’s why we held the hearings. We’ll see. We’re studying the options,” the New York Democrat told The News Station. “There’s a lot of evidence that they’re doing that. They’re debasing the Justice Department to pursue political motives, and that’s just wrong.”
Republicans are unmoved though. They paint this latest probe of Attorney General Barr as a charade that’s a mere extension of House Democrats successful effort to impeach Trump last year. They maintain Democrats haven’t let up even after Trump was acquitted by the GOP-controlled Senate at the start of this year.
“I thought it was ridiculous for us to be, you know, exercising the Democrat’s demons on Russia yet again, as our country seems to be facing more pressing issues,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told The News Station. “Honestly, I thought this was just a grievance karaoke for disgruntled former employees.”
And the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins (R-Ga.), brushes these latest allegations from Democrats aside as well.
“I think they get up in the morning and…they have a taped piece of paper on their bathroom mirror that says ‘impeachment,’ because that’s all they seem to want to talk about. And it really cheapens the discussion,” Collins, who is running for Senate, told The News Station.
This latest episode has enlivened the Congressional Cannabis Caucus whose leaders are up in arms and actively courting support for this probe that targeted an industry that’s thriving in many regions of the country in spite of alleged DOJ interference.
“It is outrageous that Attorney General Barr has allegedly politicized the Justice Department while continuing to put his own personal beliefs before those of the American people,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus, released in a statement. “His egregious disregard for his oath to serve without bias warrants an investigation into his misconduct, at the very least. I’m going to continue working with my colleagues in Congress to hold him accountable. America deserves better than this corrupt administration.”
While this impeachment inquiry is still in its infancy, House Democrats are vowing to ramp up this probe. But they say they can’t do it without more whistleblowers stepping forward, even as they face retribution from the AG or White House for speaking up.
“It was pretty remarkable for a sitting prosecutor to come forward and say ‘this was wrong,’ and he still works there,” Rep. Swalwell of California told The News Station. “I hope that courage begets more courage and that others who have seen wrongdoing see that it’s okay, you can do this, there’s a forum and hopefully will be protected.”