"Noting similar efforts by Amazon and Facebook, they said the tech giant "should focus on complying with antitrust law rather than attempting to rig the system with these unseemly tactics."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal on Wednesday sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai demanding that the company swiftly end its "ongoing attempts to strip Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of his authority to enforce antitrust law." "These efforts to bully regulators and avoid accountability... are untethered to federal ethics law and regulations." The day after Kanter took the oath of office to lead the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in November—following a bipartisan Senate vote confirming his nomination—Google suggested in the letter to federal officials that Kanter should be recused from litigation and probes against the tech giant because he may not be "fair and impartial." Google's stance apparently has not changed. CNBC reported Wednesday that a spokesperson pointed to an earlier statement about his recusal, saying, "Mr. Kanter's past statements and work representing competitors who have advocated for the cases brought by the department raise serious concerns about his ability to be impartial." Warren (D-Mass.)—who voted to confirm Kanter—and Jayapal (D-Wash.) pushed back against Google's claims, writing that "the company's attempts to force Mr. Kanter off current and future cases are misguided and reflect what appears to be a willful misunderstanding and misrepresentation of federal ethics mandates." Echoing earlier arguments from experts, the pair laid out why Kanter's recusal isn't required under federal law: First, there is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Kanter's work involving Google at the DOJ would affect his "financial interest." Second, Mr. Kanter has never represented either Google or the United States, the two parties that would be involved in any "particular matter" involving action by the federal government against the company. Third, although Google as a corporation with a clear financial interest in weak antitrust enforcement appears to be willing to question Mr. Kanter's impartiality, there is no basis for a reasonable person to do so given that Mr. Kanter's prior work has aligned with the federal government's interest in robust enforcement of antitrust law. Kanter, a well-known antitrust attorney whose nomination by President Joe Biden last year was welcomed as a win for workers and consumers, "is eminently qualified to lead the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, and it is unfair and inappropriate of your company to question his impartiality," the progressive lawmakers wrote. "These efforts to bully regulators and avoid accountability—which are similar to those of Facebook and Amazon earlier this year—are untethered to federal ethics law and regulations, and we urge you to cease them immediately," they added. "Google should focus on complying with antitrust law rather than attempting to rig the system with these unseemly tactics." Jayapal and Warren, joined by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), similarly called out Amazon and Facebook last year for attempting to "strip Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan of her authority to enforce antitrust law." Like with Kanter, Biden's nomination and the Senate's bipartisan confirmation of Khan, an "antitrust trailblazer," were widely celebrated by critics of Big Tech hopeful that the appointees will hold companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google accountable for alleged illegal conduct. "Google is right to fear that the company may have run afoul of federal antitrust law and that more aggressive enforcement from effective regulators could affect the company's operations and bottom line," wrote Warren and Jayapal, noting that U.S. officials "have filed a plethora of lawsuits against Google regarding alleged anti-competitive and exclusionary practices." "If Google is serious about ending conflicts of interest in Washington, it can demonstrate its sincerity by supporting legislation, like the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, to strengthen federal ethics requirements," the Democrats said, referencing a bill they jointly reintroduced in 2020. "Otherwise," they warned the Google CEO, "your efforts to sideline key federal regulators—like similar actions by Facebook and Amazon—simply serve as further evidence that you will go to all lengths to ward off necessary scrutiny of your immense market power."