Senators examine Caterpillar tax probe under former AG Barr’s office

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WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - Two Democrat U.S. senators are questioning whether political interference during the Trump Administration hampered a Department of Justice investigation of heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc., according to an announcement this week by the Senate Finance Committee’s chairman. Former Attorney General William Barr, Caterpillar’s former lawyer, ran the department while the investigation was underway.

The chair, Senator Ron Wyden, D-Or, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, wrote to the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service, citing a November Reuters report that the probe of Caterpillar had “stalled” while Barr was AG. The Senate letter seeks information about Caterpillar and another unrelated case.

Reuters had disclosed that six days after Trump nominated Barr as head of the Justice Department in 2018, the investigative team in the active criminal probe of Caterpillar was told to take “no further action” in the case, according to an email written by one of the agents. Barr had said that as AG, he would recuse himself from any Caterpillar matters.

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Barr had been retained by Caterpillar in 2017 as a private lawyer to help resolve the ongoing federal investigation into allegations that the company illegally routed some profits through a Swiss subsidiary. The company said it acted properly.

Reached Thursday, Barr declined to comment.

Caterpillar’s press spokesperson did not immediately respond to a phone call and an emailed request for comment Thursday.

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Aram Roston is an investigative reporter for Reuters, based in Washington, DC. For over two decades, Roston has been breaking major stories and writing investigative features on national security, white collar crime, corruption, privatization, conflict, and evangelicals. Before joining Reuters in 2019 he has written for BuzzFeed News, Newsweek, GQ, Playboy, the New York Times and other publications. His awards include two Emmys, the Daniel Pearl Award for International Investigative journalism, the Scripps Howard prize for investigative journalism, and an Investigative Reporters and Editors award.