The antitrust division later closed the probe without taking any action.
Last summer, a DOJ whistleblower testified before Congress that the probe was rushed, unusual and launched despite objections from career staff the day after then-President Donald Trump tweeted critically about the deal. Trump denounced the leaders of the “politically correct Automobile Companies” as “foolish” for opposing his push for laxer regulations.
Trump DOJ officials, including former antitrust division leader Makan Delrahim, denied that the probe was motivated by political bias.
Whitehouse’s interest: The Rhode Island senator has repeatedly pushed the Justice Department for information on the antitrust probe. At Wednesday’s hearing, Whitehouse said he was concerned that the inspector general’s investigation wouldn’t extend to possible White House’s involvement.
A DOJ inspector general probe “stops as soon as the White House says it stops,” he said. “If there were violations of the Department of Justice and White House counsel policy regarding contacts between the Department of Justice and White House, that would be an appropriate use of this committee’s oversight inquiries.”