March 18,2024

Wyden, Whitehouse Seek Justice Department Records on Trump Admin Interference That Reportedly Halted Caterpillar Investigation

New Letter to Attorney General Garland Follows Whistleblower Testimony that Corroborates Recent Press Reports on Trump DOJ Interference

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Budget Committee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., sent a letter on Thursday to Attorney General Merrick Garland seeking information and documents pertaining to alleged interference by senior Trump officials in a criminal investigation into corporate behemoth Caterpillar (CAT), the subject of a multibillion-dollar tax dispute. In 2017, CAT hired Bill Barr, then in private practice, to represent the company against the Department of Justice (DOJ). Days after President Trump nominated Barr to serve as Attorney General in 2018, senior DOJ appointees ordered the CAT investigation to a halt, blocked witness interviews, and prevented federal agents from reviewing previously-gathered evidence. 

“It appears that senior Trump DOJ appointees squashed a criminal investigation into CAT, one of the world’s largest corporations, when President Trump nominated CAT’s lawyer Bill Barr to be U.S. Attorney General. Trump appointees undermined prosecutors by interfering with a legally authorized witness interview and preventing the review of evidence collected through a court-authorized warrant. Evidence we have reviewed corroborates recent reporting on the matter. Furthermore, it appears this political interference may have also prevented an investigation into a multibillion-dollar corporate tax fraud scheme. In short, it appears that Bill Barr’s work on behalf of CAT minimizing its exposure to federal investigation became the official policy of the Trump DOJ,” the Senators wrote. “Mega-corporations and the ultra-wealthy have long exploited their access to the best lawyers money can buy to avoid criminal prosecution. Based on the available information, it would be difficult to imagine a case that illustrates that exploitation in practice more clearly than this matter involving CAT and the Trump DOJ.”

The letter from Senators Wyden and Whitehouse continues their investigation of Trump administration interference in the CAT matter, which began in 2021. Among many areas of interest, the senators are seeking to determine whether Attorney General Barr fully recused himself from the CAT matter, as he claimed he would at the time, and whether Trump officials blocked a tax fraud investigation, which the IRS is authorized to conduct under Title 26 of the U.S. code. 

“It would be deeply concerning if IRS [criminal investigators] made a referral to the DOJ seeking authorization to open a Title 26 criminal tax investigation into CAT but were prevented from pursuing the matter due to political interference by Trump administration officials,” the Senators wrote. “The existence of a referral from IRS [criminal investigators] would indicate that IRS agents had reason to believe there was enough evidence to open an investigation for potential criminal tax violations by CAT.”

The letter from Senators Wyden and Whitehouse is available in full here. The questions posed in the letter follow below: 

  1. Did IRS-CI make a Title 26 tax referral to the DOJ Tax Division related to CAT? Please provide a copy of any criminal referrals regarding CAT made by the IRS to the DOJ Tax Division. 
  1. If a Title 26 referral was made by IRS-CI, what was the resolution? If the DOJ Tax Division declined to open a criminal tax investigation into CAT after receiving a referral from IRS-CI, please explain why. Please also provide a copy of any written reply that the DOJ provided to the IRS. If the DOJ Tax Division disagreed with the IRS’s interpretation of relevant tax laws, please provide an analysis of any substantive policy disagreements with the IRS position. 
  1. Please provide copies of all non-Title 26 criminal referrals regarding CAT made by IRS CI to the DOJ. Please specify whether these referrals recommended criminal investigations into securities fraud, money laundering or wire fraud. 
  1. Did DOJ prevent the pursuit of any non-tax related criminal investigations into CAT?
  1. Did DOJ prevent agents and/or prosecutors from reviewing information obtained through a court-authorized search and seizure warrant? If so, please explain why federal agents or assistant U.S. attorneys in Illinois were not allowed to review documents obtained through a warrant approved by a court. 
  1. Did the documents seized from CAT’s offices in Illinois during a court-authorized search and seizure warrant include internal CAT tax documents? 
  1. On or around December 13, 2018, did PDAAG Zuckerman and Deputy AG jointly come to the decision that no further action, including the interview in the Netherlands, was to be taken on the CAT matter until further notice? If so, was this decision communicated to prosecutors as a decision made jointly by the Tax Division and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General? 
  1. Please explain why PDAAG Zuckerman instructed prosecutors to cancel a planned December 14, 2018 interview of a key witness in the Netherlands. Did DOJ ever allow this interview to be rescheduled? If not, please explain why.
  1. Did PDAAG Zuckerman and Deputy AG Rosenstein decline to provide an explanation to prosecutors or agents in the Netherlands regarding the last-minute cancellation of the planned interview of the witness? Was an explanation as to why the interview was cancelled ever provided to the investigative team that had travelled to the Netherlands to conduct the interview? 
  1. Please explain the role of Deputy AG Rosenstein in the decision to cancel the interview of a key witness in the CAT investigation in the Netherlands.
  1. Please provide a list of meetings between Deputy AG Rosenstein and attorneys representing CAT, including Bill Barr, Jim Cole and Mark Matthews. 
  1. Did DOJ make a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request to the Netherlands in order for IRS agents to conduct an interview related to the CAT investigation in the Netherlands?
  1. Did the team of federal law enforcement agents who had already flown to the Netherlands to conduct the cancelled interview of the witness in the CAT investigation include IRS agents? 
  1. Did CAT’s attorneys ever communicate to DOJ leadership any objections to the involvement of IRS agents in the DOJ’s criminal investigation into CAT? If so, please describe why CAT objected to the presence of IRS agents in the criminal investigation into the company.
  1. Please provide any and all documents related to any meetings that took place between PDAAG Zuckerman and counsel to CAT, Jim Cole, Bill Barr and Mark Matthews, including any and all documents related to discussions concerning the interview of the witness in the Netherlands. 
  1. After April 25, 2019, was the filter team review for the documents seized during the search warrant executed on CAT offices on March 2-3, 2017 ever allowed to move forward? If yes, please clarify when and whether the filter review team was allowed to conduct a filter review of all of the documents obtained through the execution of the search and seizure warrant.
  1. Did Attorney General Bill Barr fully recuse himself from all investigations into CAT? If not, please explain why and whether the department took formal steps to limit his involvement in the matter.
  1. Please provide a list of all meetings between CAT’s representatives (including outside counsel) and the following individuals: Richard Zuckerman, Rod Rosenstein, Jesse Panuccio, Jorge Almonte, and Larry Wszalek. 
  1. Please provide a copy of all letters or memoranda describing the DOJ’s decision to decline to bring criminal charges against CAT.
  1. Is there an ongoing investigation by the United States Department of Justice Office of Inspector General into the DOJ’s handling of the criminal investigation into CAT?