Democrats urge Amazon, Facebook to drop requests for Khan recusal

Democrats urge Amazon, Facebook to drop requests for Khan recusal
© Greg Nash

A coalition of Democrats is urging Facebook and Amazon to drop their requests for Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Lina KhanLina KhanHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Democrats press FTC to resolve data privacy 'crisis' Democrats ask FTC to fix data privacy 'crisis' Overnight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens MORE to recuse herself from matters related to the companies. 

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' The Trojan Horse of protectionism Federal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review MORE (Mass.), Cory BookerCory BookerDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Fighting poverty, the Biden way Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program MORE (N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), along with Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalThis week: Democrats face mounting headaches Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Manchin suggests pausing talks on .5 trillion package until 2022: report MORE (D-Wash.), slammed the tech giants’ requests for Khan’s recusal as an attempt to “bully” regulators and “avoid accountability.” 

“The real basis of your concerns appears to be that you fear Chair Khan’s expertise and interpretation of federal antitrust law. To argue that federal ethics laws preclude Chair Khan from exercising her expertise is illogical and inconsistent with the plain language of the relevant statutes and with FTC ethics officials’ interpretations of recusal requirements,” they wrote in a letter sent Wednesday. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Last month Facebook filed a petition seeking Khan’s recusal from decisions about how the agency proceeds with its antitrust case against the social media giant. 

A federal judge dismissed the agency's initial complaint against Facebook but a deadline extension granted the FTC until Aug. 19 to file an amended complaint. The FTC could also alternatively pursue in-house administrative proceedings. 

Before Facebook’s request, Amazon sent a similar one to the FTC asking that Khan recuse herself from any antitrust investigation into the company. 

Both companies made the request based on critical comments Khan made about the tech giants before being confirmed to the FTC and assuming her role as chair in June. 

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment in response to the letter. The company, in its recusal request last month, highlighted Khan’s time working for the advocacy group Open Markets Institute, her academic writing, and her time as an aide on the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust investigation into tech giants. 

ADVERTISEMENT

A spokesperson for Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

But the Democrats wrote that tech giants’ arguments don’t fall within the parameters of what federal ethics laws define as conflicts of interest that would require a recusal. They also highlighted that Khan testified during her confirmation hearing that she has “none of the financial conflicts or personal ties that are the basis for recusal under federal ethics laws.” 

“If you are serious about ending conflicts of interest in Washington, you can show your sincerity by supporting legislation that makes federal ethics rules and enforcement even more stringent. Otherwise, your efforts to sideline key federal regulators simply act as further evidence that you will go to all lengths to ward off necessary scrutiny of your immense market power,” the Democrats wrote. 

The lawmakers are also requesting the companies respond with details of how many of their current attorneys, in-house and outside counsel, have formerly worked at the FTC, Department of Justice or the office of the attorney general of a state. 

They also ask the companies to detail any protocols or guidelines established to ensure the attorneys don’t participate in “improper conversations or engagements” with their former governmental employers.