WASHINGTON – At today’s Senate Judiciary hearing, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections and campaign finance law and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, discussed the urgent need to protect election officials and workers and increase resources for antitrust enforcers with Attorney General Merrick Garland.
When asked by Klobuchar about the Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force, Garland responded “...the federal government has an important role, as you say, in protecting our democracy and protecting against threats against public officials,” reinforcing his commitment to safeguarding against threats to election officials and ensuring election workers are able to do their jobs without fear. As Chairwoman of the Rules Committee, Klobuchar and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) held a hearing yesterday on the importance of this issue, stating that “In the face of these threats confronting our elections, it is up to us to take action to address this head-on.”
Garland also emphasized his support for increasing resources for antitrust enforcers, noting, “It’s a key focus of our attention, antitrust enforcement, because it’s essential for consumer wellbeing and for the wellbeing of our citizens.”
Klobuchar has long advocated for reforms to reinvigorate America’s antitrust laws and restore competition to American markets. In February, she introduced the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act to give federal enforcers the resources they need to do their jobs, strengthen prohibitions on anticompetitive conduct and mergers, and make additional reforms to improve enforcement.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you. I want to move to some other threats, and that is a hearing that actually Senator Blunt and I had yesterday, it was a bipartisan hearing, we both called witnesses, it was before the Rules Committee, and it was with both Republican and Democratic election officials: the Attorney General of Arizona, a Republican local official in Philadelphia. And they told stories that horrified senators on both sides of the aisle. The Philadelphia election official Commissioner, local election official, had been sent letters basically saying that they were going to kill him and his three kids, naming the kids, as well as putting his house and his address out there. Katie Hobbs, the Attorney General of Arizona, received a voicemail saying, “I am a hunter and I think you should be hunted. You will never be safe in Arizona again.” Could you talk about what’s going on with threats against election workers, and by the way, we had the Republican Secretary of State from Kentucky talk about the fact that it has been difficult, they are losing in many jurisdictions across the country, they don’t have enough election workers because people are afraid. And we don’t have to discuss at length where these threats are coming from. I just want to have election officials, I want to have a functioning democracy. Can you provide an update on the Election Threats Task Force and talk about the kind of threats we’re seeing to election officials?
Attorney General Garland: Yes, Senator, very much like the circumstances with respect to the school boards, when the National School Board Association wrote us a letter advising of threats of violence. Earlier this year, we received communications from the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of Election Administrators raising concerns about threats of violence and violence in that area. Soon thereafter, I met -- virtually, unfortunately, because of the pandemic -- with a large number of election administrators and secretaries of state where they recounted these, the kind of threats that you’re talking about. And that led us to establish a task force, which again coordinated efforts between the federal law enforcement agencies, US Attorneys offices, and state and local law enforcement across the country. It is the case that many of those kind of threats can be handled by state and local law enforcement and should be where they’re capable of doing that, but the federal government has an important role, as you say, in protecting our democracy and protecting against threats against public officials, so that is an ongoing task force evaluating threats in that particular area.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you. Thank you. To another area, as Chair of the Competition Policy and Antitrust Subcommittee, I’ve urged the Justice Department to make antitrust enforcement a top priority. We recently had a nomination hearing for Jonathan Kanter that seems to be moving ahead, and I support the Division’s enforcement efforts, including, I know, they’re preparing for 18 trials, which is the most in decades. And could you talk about the antitrust budget, Senator Grassley and I have passed a bill with the support of the members of this committee to add some additional resources to the antitrust division, Senator Lee and I have held numerous, very informative hearings about various issues related to antitrust. Could you talk about what’s happening there?
Attorney General Garland: Yes. The Justice Department is very much committed, as I said, it’s a key focus of our attention, antitrust enforcement, because it’s essential for consumer wellbeing and for the wellbeing of our citizens. We have aggressively moved in this area, we have already stopped a merger of two of the top three largest international insurance brokers. We have, as you say, continued -- we are in the middle of trials, criminal trials, with respect to price fixing and market allocation. We have the ongoing matter involving exclusionary conduct in the Google case. We are looking, we have investigations and attention in many areas, from healthcare to agriculture to allocations within labor markets.
Sen. Klobuchar: Could I just ask you, you were talking about the criminal cases, giving the antitrust agencies authority to seek substantial civil fines for Sherman Act violations to help enforcers deter anti-competitive conduct.
Attorney General Garland: I’m sorry, I --
Sen. Klobuchar: Civil, with civil fines. Would that be helpful?
Attorney General Garland: Yes, having the ability to seek civil fines as well would be helpful, of course. If we succeed in a criminal case, the follow on civil cases become quite easy, as I know from my own antitrust practice. But we are down in the number of attorneys in the antitrust division considerably, and we need an expansion, that's why we've asked for a 9 percent increase, a total increase of $201 million, in our FY22 budget. The number of mergers has skyrocketed and the number of people we have in the division evaluating those mergers has decreased, we need help in that regard.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you. And I really appreciate the bipartisan work we’ve done in this committee on that front. Last question. In July, the Department announced that it was adopting a new policy that restricts the use of compulsory process to obtain information from members of the news media acting within the scope of news-gathering activities, an issue we discussed, you and I discussed, at your confirmation hearing. As a part of that announcement, you asked the Deputy Attorney General to undertake or review the process to further explain, develop, and codify the policy. Can you provide an update on the steps the Deputy Attorney General has taken to ensure that the new policy is implemented?
Attorney General Garland: Yes, so issuing a memo is good and it controls the Justice Department now, the next step though is to have a regulation, which will give us some greater permanence. And the next step after that would be legislation, which the Justice Department supports. What the Deputy Attorney General is doing now is trying to formulate the general outlines of my memorandum into a regulation, which can replace the current, pretty detailed regulations that we have, that’s what she’s involved in right now.
Sen. Klobuchar: Excellent. Thank you very much.
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