Hillicon Valley: Ecuador says 'road is clear' for Assange to leave embassy | Panel questioned Bannon on Cambridge Analytica | Trump aide says US knew about arrest of Huawei exec | Judges grill DOJ lawyers on AT&T merger appeal

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

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ECUADOR SINGING 'THANK U, NEXT?':  Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno on Thursday said "the road is clear" for Julian Assange to leave country's embassy in London, adding that he has been assured the WikiLeaks founder he would not face extradition to faces charges abroad.

The United Kingdom and Ecuador have been quietly discussing Assange's eventual departure from the embassy for months, The Associated Press reported.

"The road is clear for Mr. Assange to take the decision to leave," Moreno said during a radio show on Thursday, referencing a written assurance he had received from Britain, according to the AP.

Moreno added that Ecuador does not plan to force Assange out of the embassy, where he has been living since 2012. Assange fled to the embassy when U.K. courts ordered he be extradited to Sweden to be questioned in a sexual assault case, which has since been dropped.

WikiLeaks faces a U.S. grand jury investigation for publishing U.S. diplomatic and classified military information under Assange's leadership, and Assange has said that he is facing charges in the U.S.

The Department of Justice last month inadvertently revealed in an unsealed court filing that they have prepared charges against Assange, according to The Washington Post. The charges were disclosed in a filing in an unrelated case.

More on Assange here.


TRUMP OFFICIAL KNEW IN ADVANCE OF HUAWEI EXEC'S ARREST: National security adviser John Bolton said Thursday he knew in advance about the arrest of a top executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, an incident that could reignite the trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

"I knew in advance. This is something that we get from the Justice Department. And these kinds of things happen with some frequency," Bolton said in an interview with NPR.

The White House later told The Hill that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE did not know in advance of Meng Wanzhou's impending arrest Saturday by authorities in Canada.

Background: Wanzhou is reportedly suspected of violating U.S. trade sanctions on Iran.

China has demanded the release of Meng, the chief financial officer and daughter of the founder of Huawei, the world's largest supplier of telecom equipment. She faces potential extradition to the U.S. 

The company has become the target of some U.S. agencies over concerns it is too close to the Chinese government and is involved in activities like forced technology transfers and intellectual property theft.

Markets: The Dow dropped soon after its Thursday opening on fears of worsening U.S.-China trade tensions, fueled in part by the arrest. The Dow recovered though to close 79 points down.

More on the arrest here.


BACK TO THE SPOTLIGHT -- FOR BOTH OF THEM: Former White House chief strategist Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonWeld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump The specter of Steve Bannon may loom over 2020 Trump campaign Sunday shows - Trump's Epstein conspiracy theory retweet grabs spotlight MORE reportedly interviewed with the Senate Intelligence Committee last month about Cambridge Analytica.

The Daily Beast reported Thursday that Bannon, who helped found the since-shuttered data company, faced questions from investigators about the firm during a closed-door session.

Bannon and his attorney did not immediately return requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrLawmakers applaud Trump's ban on flavored e-cigarettes Trump to hold campaign rally in North Carolina day before special House election Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post MORE (R-N.C.) declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the committee's ranking member, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Democrats introduce legislation to limit foreign interference in elections Navy acknowledges footage of 'unidentified' flying objects California Law to rebuild middle class shows need for congressional action MORE (D-Va.), did not immediately return a request for comment.

Bannon's attorney, William Burck, told The Hill earlier this year that the intelligence panel was seeking an interview with the former top White House aide as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"The Senate Intelligence Committee has expressed an interest in interviewing Mr. Bannon as a witness, just as they have many other people involved in the Trump campaign," Burck said in an email in October. "But the committee has never suggested that he's under investigation himself."

Cambridge Analytica came under fire after it was reported that the firm used improperly obtained Facebook user data to create models for clients, including the Trump campaign.

Read more here.


WHITE HOUSE TECH ROUNDTABLE: Google CEO Sundar Pichai and other tech executives visited the White House today for a roundtable on American innovation.

"We had a productive and engaging discussion at the White House today about America's leadership in emerging technologies," Pichai said in a statement. "At Google, we are proud to work together with government as we develop new and innovative services and continue to invest in the U.S. and the future of the American workforce. I look forward to continuing the conversation."

Also attending the meeting were the CEOs of Microsoft, Qualcomm, Oracle, IBM and Blackstone. Those from outside the tech world who participated were Henry Kissinger, Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpTrump awards Yankees legend Mariano Rivera the Medal of Freedom The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico 2020 is not a family affair, for a change MORE, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump's 'soldier of fortune' foreign policy The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Democrats set for Lone Star showdown Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan MORE, Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerOn The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports Chinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report The Trump economy keeps roaring ahead MORE and White House CTO Michael Kratsios.

Senior administration officials said on a call with reporters ahead of the meeting that the agenda would partly focus on the rollout of 5G networks and why beating China is a priority.

The meeting comes a week before Pichai will testify before the House Judiciary Committee about allegations of anti-conservative bias and Google's data collection practices.


WELL, THAT'S SOMETHING: The top consumer protection official at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is barred from handling cases involving more than 100 different companies due to conflicts of interest from his prior work as a private sector attorney, according to documents obtained by the consumer group, Public Citizen.

Andrew Smith, who was tapped as the chief of the FTC's Consumer Protection Bureau in May, listed 120 conflicts on a financial disclosure form that Public Citizen released on Thursday. Among them are Facebook, Equifax and Uber, all of which are either under investigation by the FTC or operating under consent agreements with the agency.

"Even in an administration full of unprecedented conflicts of interests, Mr. Smith's conflicts stand out from the pack," Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen's vice president of legislative affairs, said in a statement.

"The Federal Trade Commission should be protecting consumers against predatory payday lenders and corporate bad actors rather than giving the corporate lawyer who has represented these companies a job. This is one more example of the fox guarding the henhouse," Gilbert added.

Smith's hiring caused an early rift among the new slate of FTC commissioners confirmed this year, with the two Democrats voting against his appointment in a 3-2 party-line vote. Rohit Chopra, a Democrat on the commission, said his private sector work would hamper his ability to oversee the bureau's operations.

Read more here.


TURNING UP THE HEAT ON A MAJOR MERGER DEAL: Judges on a federal appeals court on Thursday grilled the Department of Justice (DOJ) over its challenge to a lower court decision blessing the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

The government is seeking to block the $85 billion dollar deal but faces a high burden in the appeals process and took tough questions from the judicial panel.

"This is a merger that will shape the industry for decades to come," Michael Murray, the DOJ's lawyer, said during his oral argument before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was unclear from the tough questioning where the judges will land in their consideration of the appeal. The questioning centered on the economic model that the government relied on in court earlier this year and the trial judge's interpretation of it in his decision to approve the merger unconditionally.

In a brief filed to the appeals court in August, the DOJ argued that D.C. District Judge Richard Leon ignored "fundamental principles of economics and common sense" in blessing the deal.

The landmark case marks the first time that an administration has gone to court to block a vertical merger since the Nixon era. The DOJ and other critics say that the deal would give AT&T and its television-provider subsidiaries unfair leverage over competitors negotiating to distribute Time Warner content.

More here.


GOING PUBLIC? Lyft has confidentially filed for an initial public offering (IPO), pulling out ahead of its ride-sharing competitor Uber in the race to go public.

Lyft announced in a statement Thursday that it has not yet decided how many shares will be offered or how far the price will range, but that it has submitted early documentation for the IPO.

Ride-sharing services have drawn billions of venture capital dollars, but have yet to be tested in a wider investor market.

Uber is trying to get an IPO in the first half of 2019, people familiar with the matter have told Bloomberg. Lyft is aiming to lead an IPO in the same timeframe, people familiar with the matter told the outlet in October.

The banks working with Lyft – JPMorgan Chase & Co., Credit Suisse Group AG, and Jeffries Financial Group Inc. – have valued the company from $18 billion to $30 billion, sources told Bloomberg.

More on the company's plans here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The United States needs better quantum science as a national policy.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Tis the season.



Arrest shakes Huawei as global skepticism of its business grows. (The New York Times)

What Washington Post employees actually think about Amazon. (Huffington Post)

Microsoft pushes urgency of regulating facial-recognition technology. (The Wall Street Journal)

Tumblr's porn ban reveals who controls what we see online. (Wired)