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If at First You Don’t Succeed, Weaponize the Department of Justice


Hiroko Tabuchi and Coral Davenport in the New York Times:

The Justice Department has opened an antitrust inquiry into the four major automakers that struck a deal with California this year to reduce automobile emissions, according to people familiar with the matter, escalating a standoff over one of the president’s most significant rollbacks of climate regulations.

In July, four automakers — Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW — announced that they had reached an agreement in principle with California on emissions standards stricter than those being sought by the White House. The announcement came as an embarrassment for the Trump administration, which assailed the move as a “P.R. stunt.”

Now, the Justice Department is investigating whether the four automakers violated federal antitrust laws by reaching a deal with California, on the grounds that the agreement could potentially limit consumer choice, those people said. The Justice Department declined to comment on the investigation, which was reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The Times editorial board calls all of this for what it is:

Antitrust law grants the government broad authority to police anticompetitive practices, and the Justice Department has dressed up its actions with the fig leaf that the companies may have colluded by collectively agreeing to the tougher standards, which could result in higher prices for new cars and light trucks.

The investigation is particularly striking because the department has shown little interest in preventing corporations from engaging in actual anticompetitive behavior. This summer, for example, the department blessed T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint, a deal likely to harm mobile phone consumers and workers, and to impede innovation.

The sight of various administration officials and government departments gaslighting Americans to cover for Trump’s confused warning to Alabama about Hurricane Dorian is just a bit too weird and pathetic to be as horrifying as it should be. This inquiry is different. It’s a classic authoritarian maneuver—an enormous abuse in of itself even if it never comes to fruition. It provides further evidence that, in William Barr, Trump has found the “loyal” Attorney General he once publicly longed for.

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