Warren calls on top DOJ antitrust official to recuse himself from tech probes

Warren calls on top DOJ antitrust official to recuse himself from tech probes
© Greg Nash

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll Warren avoids attacks while building momentum Sanders unveils plan to eliminate Americans' medical debt MORE (D-Mass.) on Tuesday called on the Department of Justice's (DOJ) top antitrust official to recuse himself from any probes into Google or Apple because of his previous lobbying for the two tech giants.

In letters, Warren cited Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim's "real or perceived conflicts of interest."

"Your past work as a lobbyist for two of the largest and most scrutinized tech companies in the world creates the appearance of a conflict of interest," Warren wrote in a letter to Delrahim on Tuesday. "As the head of the antitrust division at the DOJ, you should not be supervising investigations into former clients who paid you tens of thousands of dollars to lobby the federal government."

ADVERTISEMENT

Reports in recent weeks have indicated the DOJ and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are divvying up oversight of the country's largest tech giants in preparation for potential investigations into the companies' enormous market power, with the DOJ charged with overseeing Apple and Google while the FTC takes on Facebook and Amazon. 

Warren was the first major 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to call for breaking up companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, with others since following her lead. It became one of the signature plans that she has become known for as she surges in the polls as a top-tier candidate.

Delrahim lobbied on Google's behalf in 2007 when it was facing antitrust scrutiny over its acquisition of DoubleClick, a top online advertising company that has boosted its dominance in digital ads. The controversial $3.1 billion merger was approved after eight months, despite an outcry from competitors and industry-watchers who said it would give Google an unfair advantage in search advertising tools.

Experts have said any antitrust investigation of Google would likely home in on its dominance in digital advertising, which is partially enabled by its acquisition of DoubleClick. 

According to Senate lobbying numbers, Delrahim reported a $100,000 paycheck from Google that year.

Delrahim also lobbied on behalf of Apple in 2006 and 2007 on patent reform. 

Federal ethics laws require individuals to recuse themselves from situations in which they could not be impartial. 

In a letter to Delrahim, Warren slammed his swing around the so-called revolving door, writing, "Your prior work lobbying the federal government on behalf of these and other companies in antitrust matters compromises your ability to manage or advise on this investigation without real or perceived conflicts of interest." 

"Given his extensive and lucrative previous work lobbying the federal government on behalf of Google and Apple — particularly his work to aid Google in its acquisition of DoubleClick Inc. — any reasonable person would surely question Mr. Delrahim’s impartiality in antitrust matters involving Google," Warren wrote in a separate letter to Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus. 

Warren asked Lofthus, the DOJ's ethics official, to provide information by June 14 on how the department is planning to address Delrahim's potential conflicts. She sent him a list of questions pressing the agency over whether it considers Delrahim's former lobbying work an issue and whether Delrahim has filled out an ethics agreement over his work for Google and Apple.   

"Your past work as a lobbyist for two of the largest and most scrutinized tech companies in the world creates the appearance of conflict of interest," Warren wrote in her letter to the top antitrust attorney. "As the head of the antitrust division at the DOJ, you should not be supervising investigations into former clients who paid you tens of thousands of dollars to lobby the federal government." 

"American consumers and markets deserve the confidence that the DOJ will conduct any antitrust investigation into Google or Apple with integrity, impartiality, and with the best interest of competitive markets and consumers in mind," she wrote.

Warren's letters comes as the Trump administration and House gear up for separate antitrust investigations into companies including Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google. 

A DOJ spokesperson in an email to The Hill confirmed it had received the letter, declining to comment further.