Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) says he plans to investigate what, if any, involvement the White House may have had in getting Google off the legal hook.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah pauses while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) AP Photo/Cliff Owen
The Wall Street Journal reported that as the FTC was officially closing its probe of the Internet giant in 2012, Google CEO Eric Schmidt met with senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Pete Rouse, at the White House. Google co-founder Larry Page also held talks with FTC officials, the details of which have not been released.
The Federal Trade Commission accused Google in 2012 of using anticompetitive tactics and abusing its monopoly power against its business competitors. It wasn't long after the high-level meetings occurred, however, that the FTC announced it would close its investigation and Google agreed to make changes to its business practices.
The decision came one year after FTC investigators gave their formal recommendation to take Google to court. It's not unprecedented for the FTC board of commissioners to reject recommendations, it is rare. But it should also be noted that the recommendations of a separate investigation was in keeping with the commission's final decision, as it did not recommend legal action.
But over the course of media's reporting, an FTC document that was mistakenly released as the agency responded to a freedom of information request suggests the internal chatter wasn't always so much in favor of Google. According to one of the agency's own documents, Google's conduct "has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”
The FTC's apparent reversal came not only on the heels of high-level talks between the White House, the FTC and Google, but it also happened throughout a close-call presidential election year. These circumstances are what have prompted some lawmakers on Capitol Hill to announce an investigation into any possible role the White House may have played in the FTC's final decision.
Lee, who heads the Senate subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights, is one of the lawmakers heading the partisan effort. Emily Long, a spokeswoman for Lee, told TheBlaze that the subcommittee plans to hold discussions with the FTC and other parties, but added there are currently no plans for a hearing.
"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.
Asked about the matter on Monday, White House spokesman Eric Schultz denied opposing claims, saying, “I know that there was a news report about meetings with Google executives at the White House, and I would tell you that we meet with business leaders all the time."
But recent reporting has suggested Google executives may visit the White House more than others. Johanna Shelton, one of Google's top lobbyists, has had more than 60 meetings at Pennsylvania Ave while employees of Comcast, one of Google's top competitors, has been there for about 20 meetings.
Both Google and Comcast were among Obama's top donors for the 2012 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org.
(H/T: The Hill)
Follow Jon Street (@JonStreet) on Twitter