According to the National Journal (“Senate to Investigate White House Role in Google’s Antitrust Victory“):
A Senate panel plans to investigate whether the White House inappropriately derailed a federal investigation into accusations that Google was stifling online competition.
Sen. Mike Lee, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary’s Antitrust Subcommittee, plans to contact the Federal Trade Commission, Google, and other online companies to discuss the issue, Emily Long, a spokeswoman for the Utah Republican, said Monday. The subcommittee has no plans yet to hold a hearing on the issue, she said….
“In short, we are interested in how the FTC allowed a confidential report to be disclosed, and second, what conversations, if any, the FTC or Google had with the White House about the pending investigation,” Long said in an emailed statement. “We are not likely at this time to re-examine the underlying merits of the investigation, which was closed. Our interest is in oversight.”
It’s not the first time that the White House has come under fire for allegedly putting pressure on an independent agency. Congressional Republicans are also investigating whether the White House inappropriately influenced the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to enact tough-net neutrality regulations.
“We look forward to discussing these matters with Sen. Lee’s office,” said FTC spokesman Justin Cole.
Well, maybe Google’s Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Policy Rachel Whetstone will send Senator Lee a nice laughing baby GIF like she did for Rupert Murdoch? Or just drop the pretense and sue him for challenging Google’s sovereign immunity like Google is doing with Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood?
Senator Lee would do well to read Public Citizen’s nonpartisan and very scary report about Google’s political contributions and influence called “Mission Creep-y: Google Is Quietly Becoming One of the Nation’s Most Powerful Political Forces While Expanding Its Information-Collection Empire” (get a free copy here).
Republican Senator Lee, a bitter Obama critic, who likely recognizes an opportunity to potentially embarrass the White House even as he appears to be doing his job. It is ironic that Lee and others like him, with their historical anti-regulation rhetoric, are now suggesting that there should have been stronger regulatory intervention in this case.
Yet the FTC competition report disclosed last week, juxtaposed with the tepid investigation outcome, does raise questions about the FTC investigation and its decision not to pursue stronger action against Google. The agency tried to dispel any appearance of impropriety with several statements explaining that the Bureau of Competition report was simply one among many the agency considered in coming to its decision.
The controversy clearly isn’t over and the FTC will be compelled to further explain the gap between the internal report recommendations and the investigation’s outcome.
You are going to hear a lot of deflection about Senator Lee’s oversight investigation of the FTC being hypocritical as Senator Lee is a small government conservative who should be opposed to FTC regulation. It is certainly true that antitrust is one of those areas where small and big government types collide.
But Senator Lee has expressly sworn off reopening the FTC’s antitrust investigation. Senator Lee is clearly focused on whether there was improper political influence over the FTC’s investigation coming from the White House.
Now why ever might he think that?
It’s very hard to tell what goes on in the White House if they don’t want to tell you–assuming that the business wasn’t conducted at Caribou Coffee (across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). But here’s a couple of insights from a FOIA of Andrew McLaughlin. McLaughlin is a former White House employee (US Deputy CTO) and former director of global public policy for Google who was reprimanded and asked to leave after an inadvertent disclosure of government business being done on his personal email account…ahem…
And then who can forget this post-election meeting at the San Francisco home of David Drummond, Google’s head lawyer, along with McLaughlin pen pal Ben Scott and of course, the Poker Prof himself, Lester Lawrence Lessig III.
Here’s a nice picture of David Drummond advising Eric Schmidt to take the 5th and refuse to answer Senator Cornyn’s questions about Google’s $500,000,000 non prosecution agreement with the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department the last time that Google was investigated by the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee:
As we noted in “Government Capture and Google’s Crony Capitalism Assault on America,” the list of Google employees in the executive branch is long and distinguished. Here’s a handful:
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and Obama Campaign Volunteer: Eric Schmidt (call sign “Uncle Sugar”)
Google Lobbyist: Katherine Oyama (former Associate Counsel to Vice President Joseph Biden)
Counselor to the Chairman, Federal Communications Commission: Gigi Sohn, formerly CEO of Google Shill Lister Public Knowledge.
Special Assistant to Chairman, Federal Communications Commission: Sagar Doshi (Google Product Specialist)
Chief Digital Officer, Office of Management and Budget and Featured Revolver at OpenSecrets.org‘s Revolving Door Site: Jason Goldman, formerly Product Manager at Google.
Director of Google Ideas (and co-author with Uncle Sugar of The New Digital Age): Jared Cohen (formerly a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff and as an advisor to Condoleezza Rice and later Hillary Clinton).
Director of United States Patent and Trademark Office: Michelle Lee (formerly Google’s Head of Patents and Patent Strategy)
U.S. Chief Technology Officer: Megan Smith (formerly at Google[x])
Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer: Alexander Macgillivray (formerly Google’s point man on orphan works)
Director of Google Advanced Technology and Projects Group: Regina Dugan (former director of DARPA)
Director of U.S. Digital Service aka savior of Healthcare.gov (in case you couldn’t tell): Mikey Dickerson (former Site Reliability Manager at Google)
YouTube Global Communications and Public Affairs Manager: Chelsea Maugham (former U.S. State Dept. Chief of Staff)
Google Head of Global Development Initiatives: Sonal Shah (Advisory Board Member, Obama-Biden Transition Project)
Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer (White House): Nicole Wong (former Google Vice President & Deputy General Counsel)
And then there are dozens if not hundreds of former Hill staffers now working for Google’s DC shillery.
How does Google get away with it? Perhaps Senator Lee will find out.