New emails highlight ties between White House and Google

New emails highlight ties between White House and Google
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New emails are providing a glimpse of the ties between Google and President Obama’s White House.

The Campaign for Accountability published emails it obtained, which was first reported on by The Verge. The emails detail a brief exchange between White House internet adviser R. David Edelman and Google lobbyist Johanna Shelton.

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In the correspondence on Jan. 3, 2013, Edelman writes to Shelton, “I hear big news is coming out momentarily,” referring to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) decision on whether to pursue an antitrust suit against Google, which the agency had announced it was about to make.

“Do you have the release and any accompanying materials from Google’s side?” Edelman asked, adding, “Obviously lots of interest here at the WH.”

The FTC announced its decision to not pursue an antitrust suit shortly after Edelman’s email. Shelton responded with links to Google’s statement on the decision and a letter detailing voluntary changes that the tech behemoth would make.

The FTC was investigating concerns that Google’s “practices could stifle competition in the markets for popular devices such as smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles, as well as the market for online search advertising.” 

The White House has traditionally stayed out of anti-trust matters under an informal precedent set after Richard Nixon was involved in halting an antitrust suit of ITT, a company that had donated to his campaign.

Shelton has visited the White House 128 times for meetings and has come under separate criticism for her contact with the FTC.  

“White House officials regularly meet with businesses on a wide range of issues," a representative from the White House said in a statement. "These meetings help keep the Administration apprised of outside perspectives on important policy issues. Our staff is cognizant that it is inappropriate to discuss issues related to specific regulatory enforcement actions.”

In the same statement the White House reinforced the independence of the FTC.

“The Federal Trade Commission is an independent agency, and we respect their independent decision-making."

In 2015, Shelton became the subject of media scrutiny for what some saw as another example of the administration cozying up to Google.  

At the time, the Google lobbyist emailed the FTC seeking a statement to counter the negative press from a Wall Street Journal story detailing how the agency decided not to pursue antitrust suits against Google.  

Several days after Shelton’s request, the FTC released such a statement, according to BuzzFeed. The statement attempted to clear up what the FTC and Google saw as the Wall Street Journal making "a number of misleading inferences and suggestions about the integrity of the FTC’s investigation."

Edelman met with Google officials at least 18 times from 2012 to 2015, according to records reviewed by The Intercept. That included several meetings with Shelton in the months leading up to the FTC’s decision. 

—Updated on Aug. 19.