How Trump’s Justice Dept. Derailed an Investigation of a Major Company

In December 2018, a team of federal law enforcement agents flew to Amsterdam to interview a witness in a yearslong criminal investigation into Caterpillar, which had avoided billions of dollars of income taxes by shifting profits to a Swiss subsidiary.

A few hours before the interview was set to begin, the agents were startled to hear that the Justice Department was telling them to cancel the long-planned meeting.

The interview was never rescheduled, and the investigation would limp along for another few years before culminating, in late 2022, with a victory for Caterpillar. The Internal Revenue Service told the giant industrial company to pay less than a quarter of the back taxes the government once claimed that Caterpillar owed and did not impose any penalties. The criminal investigation was closed without orisbet charges being filed — and even without agents having the chance to review records seized from the company.

Caterpillar appears to have defused the investigation at least in part by deploying a type of raw legal power that rarely becomes publicly visible. This account is based on interviews with people familiar with the investigation, regulatory filings and internal Justice Department emails provided to Senate investigators and reviewed by The New York Times.

In the months leading up to the canceled interview in the Netherlands, Caterpillar had enlisted a small group of well-connected lawyers to plead the company’s case. Chief among those was William P. Barr, who had served as attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration.

Richard Zuckerman, the Justice Department’s top tax official, stopped an investigation into Caterpillar after meeting with its lawyers.Credit…Jerry Zolynsky
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