In Texas, questions are growing about a US Attorney removed last month by Attorney General Barr

Joseph Brown, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas and appointed by Trump, was expelled after ProPublica published a nearly 7,000-word story titled “Walmart was criminally charged with opioids. Trump’s appointees killed the indictment,” which he described. an internal accusation. Battle over the efforts of a Texas prosecutor to file criminal charges against Walmart, according to people familiar with the matter. Walmart has not been charged with any crime.

Brown quietly resigned, but now last month’s forced departure is receiving renewed attention as the latest move that has fueled concerns about the politicization of the Justice Department under Barr.

The House Judiciary Committee is investigating the matter, sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN, and has lined up a witness who filed a whistleblower complaint with the Justice Department inspector general to testify about the handling of the Walmart investigation. .

Barr’s latest overthrow comes to light as several clashes erupt since the firing last weekend of Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was investigating Rudy Giuliani, the personal attorney for Trump, to the public testimony of two career prosecutors who alleged senior justice officials interfered in politically sensitive cases.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Late last month, Brown was contacted by a Justice Department official in Washington and given an ultimatum, he could either resign or be “different,” according to a person familiar with the exchange.

The official did not explain why Washington officials wanted Brown to leave, according to the person, “but it was clear he was related to ProPublica. That is the only explanation.”

Senior Justice Department officials were angered by the detailed public broadcast of the Justice Department’s internal discussions and a statement Brown provided to ProPublica that they believed violated the rules governing ongoing cases, people familiar with the matter say.

Declaration infuriates DOJ

ProPublica’s story details the efforts of Texas prosecutors to file criminal charges against Walmart and one of its employees and a civil lawsuit against the company regarding its distribution of opioids. History says Texas prosecutors were blocked at various steps in the investigation by officials in Washington.

ProPublica said its article was based on hundreds of Walmart internal documents and investigative documents, correspondence the company exchanged with Justice Department officials and interviews with nine people familiar with the investigation.

Walmart responded to the ProPublica story with a statement, which was provided to CNN, that Texas prosecutors committed misconduct and threatened “unmerited criminal charges against Walmart for extorting an unjustified civil settlement.” The company said it was told that Texas prosecutors were seeking to “embarrass” Walmart.

In the ProPublica article, Brown responded to Walmart’s accusations of defending the investigations, which he says are ongoing.

“We are confident that once all the facts in this matter are made public, the vacuum of this criticism will be evident. It is not the goal of our office to embarrass Walmart. Walmart’s behavior in dispensing opioid medications in the midst of a health crisis public should embarrass Walmart, “Brown said, confirming ongoing criminal and civil investigations at the company.

The statement angered senior Justice Department officials, according to people briefed on the matter.

That same month, in a letter to Barr, the Speaker of the House Judiciary, Jerry Nadler, requested documents and correspondence between the Attorney General’s office and the United States Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Texas regarding ” any civil enforcement action or criminal investigations by Walmart Inc. involving violations of the Controlled Substances Act or the False Claims Act. ”

Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesman, said the company “did not know Joe Brown was leaving his position and does not know why.” Walmart has not been contacted by House investigators, he said.

People familiar with the Walmart investigation have confirmed to CNN that DOJ officials in Washington prevented Texas prosecutors from filing a criminal case. Civilian investigators from the Texas office prepared a lawsuit against Walmart, but the case did not proceed, said a person familiar with the matter.

Fallout in Texas

Joshua Russ, the deputy federal prosecutor in Texas who oversees the civil investigation and the co-chair of a Justice Department task force, resigned in October after the civil investigation stalled.

In his resignation letter, which was published by ProPublica, Russ wrote: “I appreciate that there are rational disagreements on how best to proceed, and I respect those divergent views. However, I deeply regret that the Department leadership prevented EDTX from filing its lawsuit. in 2018. ”

“When I took the oath of office, I invoked the judgment of God and swore that I would support and uphold the Constitution and that I ‘would faithfully and well discharge the duties of the office,'” Russ’s letter said. “Corporations cannot poison Americans with impunity. Good sense dictates severe and swift action when Americans die,” he said.

Brown agreed to resign and in his dismissal statement alluded to the Walmart investigation without identifying her by name.

“We must win the fight against opioid abuse to save our country. But to be effective, we must be willing to prosecute all facets of the expansive network that feeds these destructive drugs in our communities. Big and small players must comply. with equal justice under the law, “said Brown.

Brown was replaced by Stephen J Cox, a Barr team who headed the civilian division in Washington. According to ProPublica, when Texas prosecutors wanted to file a civil lawsuit against Walmart Cox, he was among Washington officials who said he was not ready.

Earlier this year, a working group of career attorneys that included the Justice headquarters and Federal Attorney offices across the country that had been working on a comprehensive civil settlement with Walmart, complained that their efforts were being seen hampered due to tactics by the Brown federal prosecutor’s office, according to a person briefed on the matter.

This spring they called for the eastern Texas district office to be removed from the task force, the person said.