A federal criminal probe into one of Attorney General Bill Barr’s former corporate clients was quietly stalled though not quite killed one week after Barr was nominated to lead the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The Reuters wire service reports that “[DOJ] officials in Washington told the investigative team in the active criminal probe of Caterpillar to take ‘no further action’ in the case, according to an email written by one of the agents” and reviewed by the outlet.
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Caterpillar, Inc. owes the federal government some $2.3 billion in back taxes and penalties after trying to dodge U.S. taxes by creating a shell company in Switzerland in order to take advantage of the Swiss tax rate.
A 2014 U.S. Senate report determined that Caterpillar had not made “any real changes in its business operations” in order to justify not paying U.S. taxes and those claims later became the focus of a 2015 investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois.
That investigation came to a head in 2017 when three federal law enforcement agencies raided the company’s offices in Illinois.
Barr was announced as counsel for the beleaguered company two weeks after that raid occurred. The company’s CEO Jim Umpleby said at the time that Barr would “take a fresh look at Caterpillar’s disputes with the government, get all the facts, and then help us bring these matters to proper resolution based on the merits.”
President Donald Trump announced that he wanted Barr, the country’s 77th attorney general, to serve as the 85th attorney general the second week of December 2018. One week after that, the federal investigation into Caterpillar was all-but shelved.
“I was instructed on December 13, 2018,” wrote Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Special Agent Jason LeBeau in a letter outlining the change, “that the Tax Division and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General jointly came to the decision that no further action was to be taken on the matter until further notice.”
To be clear, the investigation is technically still open but is effectively inactive, according to the report.
An anonymous source close to the Central District of Illinois said “it’s slowed, it’s stalled, it’s languishing. Not a lot of action is being taken.” They stopped just short of saying it was “dead.”
Barr, of course, was not attorney general at the time so the decision to cut bait on Caterpillar likely did not come directly from him but the report has raised evergreen issues of influence, double-dealing, conflicts of interest and the revolving door between Washington, D.C. and the multinational corporations who are lightly regulated by the federal government.
“This is a serious matter,” tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. “Given the timing of this unusual decision, made just a week after Barr was nominated to become Attorney General, the DOJ Inspector General should investigate.”
According to Reuters, the DOJ said that Barr personally recused himself from all matters involving Caterpillar once he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Law&Crime reached out to the DOJ for additional comment and clarity on this story but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
[image via via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
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