Note: this article, featuring our client John Elias and our David Seide, was originally published here.

Two Independent Watchdogs Investigating DOJ Leaders in Cannabis Probe, Whistleblower Says

(CNN) Two independent watchdogs are reviewing whether the Justice Department investigated cannabis companies because of political feelings against them, according to a whistleblower and his lawyer.

During his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Antitrust Division lawyer John Elias on Wednesday disclosed the existence of the investigations — by the Justice Department’s independent inspector general and the executive branch’s Office of Special Counsel — into the upper echelons of Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department. Elias said he was one of two whistleblowers alleging problematic Justice Department demands of cannabis suppliers that were interested in merging.
CNN has reached out to the Office of Special Counsel and the Justice Department inspector general for more information.
The newly revealed investigations may put Barr’s leadership under further scrutiny, as he faces widespread criticism from former and current prosecutors in recent weeks for law enforcement decisions that benefit President Donald Trump’s friends and potentially his reelection campaign.
The House committee is investigating Barr’s decision-making as well.
After Elias discussed it in the hearing, a memo obtained by CNN further showed the route that the whistleblower complaints on the cannabis investigations took.
Elias and another anonymous whistleblower took their concerns to Justice’s inspector general and the Office of Special Counsel, another agency positioned to receive whistleblower complaints. The special counsel’s office, which is not related to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, referred the complaint it received to the Justice Department’s internal Office of Professional Responsibility, which responded on June 11 that it didn’t believe there was a reason for it to investigate and closed its probe.
The Antitrust Division allegedly, “at the direction of the Attorney General’s Office, placed these demands on merging cannabis companies in order to slow the growth of the cannabis industry due to DOJ leadership’s animosity towards the industry,” according to a letter from the Office of Professional Responsibility summarizing the complaints.
The Office of Professional Responsibility determined the antitrust scrutiny of the companies “was reasonable” and “would not have violated any relevant laws, regulations, rules, policies, or guidelines,” office Director Jeffrey Ragsdale wrote, essentially defending Barr. Ragsdale had earned Barr’s appointment to the position less than a month earlier.
The office’s finding “is perplexing to me,” Elias said during his testimony.
Elias’ lawyer, David Seide of the Government Accountability Project, said after the hearing Wednesday that the investigations independent of the Department of Justice were ongoing.
“It’s not over, and it has a long ways to go,” Seide said.