As an antitrust lawyer, I counsel clients that foreign countries sometimes use their antitrust laws for political purposes. Now, U.S. businesses have to be told that our own Justice Department can do the same thing. We were supposed to be free of this.

In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon ordered the Justice Department to go easy on I.T.T. in an antitrust case in return for a $400,000 contribution. The response was the Tunney Act, which allows the public to scrutinize an antitrust settlement before it is finalized. However, President Trump apparently ordered the Justice Department to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner because of his disdain for CNN. Now, we have a spurious investigation of the automakers’ settlement with California in which they agreed to higher emissions standards than what Mr. Trump wants.

Long-recognized antitrust principles protect the right of competitors to jointly petition the government for government regulation of the market. The automakers that negotiated with California were almost certainly acting according to those standards. That the Justice Department, to cater to an obsessed president, would come up with a contrived notion that this was a sham for raising prices is shameful. In investigating the automakers with the concurrence of a spineless attorney general, we have entered into serious territory where our legal institutions are undermined.

Edward Correia, Bethesda

The writer is a former chief counsel for the
Senate Antitrust Subcommittee.

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