Senator to probe Google meetings at White House

Senate investigators are turning their attention to meetings held at the White House during the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) years-old antitrust probe of Google.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is concerned that Google’s access to the administration could have biased the investigation, and plans to question the “FTC and the parties” about the meetings, according to his office.

Lee, who leads the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, also plans to look at how the FTC inadvertently leaked internal details of the antitrust probe to the media.

While there are no plans for a hearing on the issue “at this time,” Lee wouldn’t rule one out, according to his office.

“Our interest is in oversight,” Lee’s spokeswoman Emily Long said in a statement. 

{mosads}During a briefing Monday, White House spokesman Eric Schultz reiterated the FTC is an independent agency and brushed off the idea that the White House improperly influenced the Google investigation. 

“I know that there was a news report about meetings with Google executives at the White House, and I would tell you that we meet with business leaders all the time,” he said. 

A pair of Wall Street Journal stories this month set the gears in motion. The outlet reported on an internal FTC report from 2012 that recommended suing the search giant over three areas where it allegedly abused its monopoly power. The staff report also advised against a lawsuit over alleged anticompetitive tactics employed with its search engine. 

The Journal also reported on a series of meetings Google had with the White House and the FTC ahead of the agency’s final decision.

In 2013, the commission ultimately settled the investigation with no lawsuits filed after Google made a series of reforms. 

The internal report was handed over to the Journal inadvertently during a Freedom of Information Act request, according to the FTC and The Journal.

The FTC has said the articles have painted a misleading picture, and denied that Google’s access to the administration swayed the agency away from legal action. Google has added it did not discuss the antitrust investigation during any of its White House meetings. 

Google mocked the “tone” of the publication last week in a blog post titled “Really, Rupert?” — a reference to Rupert Murdoch, whose company owns the publication. 

Tags antitrust Federal Trade Commission Google Mike Lee White House

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