United to Protect Democracy – a nonpartisan, nonprofit group formed by former White House lawyers – is calling for a thorough investigation of potentially inappropriate contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the proposed merger between health insurance giants Anthem and Cigna. Citing recent reports of contact between Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish and President Trump, Protect Democracy Executive Director Ian Bassin wrote to the DOJ Inspector General asking for a probe of any contacts between the White House and DOJ regarding the merger.
Anthem has been a vocal political ally of the Trump administration, and the reported call between Swedish and Trump came not long after Anthem indicated that it expected the Trump administration to pave the way for its previously-blocked merger. Just days after the call, it was reported that Makan Delrahim, a former Anthem lobbyist who lobbied on the merger, could be nominated to oversee DOJ’s antitrust division.
“Evenhanded treatment under the law is a bedrock principle of our democracy,” Bassin – a former attorney in the White House Counsel’s Office – writes in the letter. “The American people depend on the Department to enforce our federal laws equally as to all parties, regardless of those parties’ size, influence, or political connections. It would seriously undermine the rule of the law if the President or his political advisors were to direct or encourage the Department to alter course in an ongoing enforcement or litigation matter in order to benefit a political ally.”
Earlier this month, Protect Democracy released an overview of policies preventing inappropriate contacts between the White House and federal enforcement agencies that have been in adhered to by both Democratic and Republican administrations for more than 40 years since Watergate. That history is relevant. As Bassin notes in the letter, “[t]he chronology of political involvement in the Anthem-Cigna matter is beginning to draw similarities” to President Nixon’s interference in DOJ’s antitrust cases against International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) in the early 1970s.
“The questions surrounding the Department’s handling of the ITT matter undermined public confidence in the integrity of antitrust enforcement,” and led to new laws designed to restore the public trust, Bassin writes. “Based on the President’s communication with the CEO of Anthem, which has been a significant campaign contributor to Republican causes, and the potential nomination of a lobbyist who worked on this matter to run the Antitrust Division, we are very concerned that Administration officials may have engaged in inappropriate conduct regarding the Anthem-Cigna litigation. For example, we cannot help but suspect that this matter may have arisen during discussions between the White House and Justice Department about the potential nomination of Mr. Delrahim…Accordingly, we ask the OIG to initiate an investigation to identify the applicable policy governing contacts between the White House and the Department, and to find out if any improper communications have occurred or were attempted.”
The DOJ OIG is an independent entity whose mission is to “detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in DOJ programs and personnel, and to promote economy and efficiency in those programs.” The letter was also copied to Senators Mike Lee and Amy Klobuchar, respectively the Chair and Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights.
Protect Democracy’s full letter is available here.