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Makan Delrahim Antitrust Chief Recuses Himself From Google Probe

Makan Delrahim Antitrust Chief Recuses Himself From Google Probe. 

Google was a one-time client. In 2007, Mr. Delrahim advised the search giant as it sought approval from the Federal Trade Commission to buy internet ad firm DoubleClick, an acquisition that helped make Google a dominant force in the digital-advertising ecosystem.


Makan Delrahim Antitrust Chief Recuses Himself From Google Probe
Justice Department’s Antitrust Chief Recuses Himself From Google Probe

WASHINGTON—The Justice Department’s chief antitrust enforcement official has recused himself from the department’s investigation into whether Alphabet Inc.’s Google is unlawfully suppressing competition.

The department said that as the probe progressed, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim came to realize that he needed to recuse himself because of his past work in private practice.

Google was a one-time client. In 2007, Mr. Delrahim advised the search giant as it sought approval from the Federal Trade Commission to buy internet ad firm DoubleClick, an acquisition that helped make Google a dominant force in the digital-advertising ecosystem.

The recusal is the latest sign that the department regards Google’s ad business as a top issue of concern. The company’s digital-advertising practices have become an increasingly prominent focus of the investigation, and Mr. Delrahim and the department wanted to remove any appearance of a conflict of interest as the probe progresses further, people familiar with the matter said.

In addition to digital advertising, the department is continuing to examine Google’s search and Android businesses as part of the probe, the people said.

Mr. Delrahim previously received ethics clearance to work on the Google probe, but the reversal came last week, after he and ethics officials took stock of recent advances in the Justice Department’s investigation, the people said.

Mr. Delrahim “revisited potential conflicts with previous work with the Department of Justice’s ethics office. He and the ethics office have decided that he should now recuse himself from a matter within the tech review in an abundance of caution,” a department spokesman said.

The New York Times first reported Mr. Delrahim’s recusal.

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The department for months has been investigating Google, as well as conducting a broader probe into whether other tech giants, including Facebook Inc., are using their dominance in ways that violate U.S. antitrust law. The reviews are expected to last for much of 2020. 

 


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Mr. Delrahim isn’t sidelined on all Big Tech matters, but his Google recusal brought immediate changes, including on Tuesday, when Mr. Delrahim didn’t participate in a scheduled meeting between department officials and state attorneys general about their respective Google investigations.

Even before the recusal, Mr. Delrahim already had been ceding turf within the Justice Department on Big Tech, as top leadership has taken an unusually strong interest in antitrust enforcement against online platforms. Both Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen are playing an active role in the probes, and each has added antitrust lawyers to their offices.

The internal shifts could make life more difficult—and less predictable—for Google as it may have to deal directly with offices within the Justice Department that don’t usually participate in antitrust matters.

Making the situation more complicated, Mr. Delrahim’s principal deputy within the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Barry Nigro, also recently recused himself in the Google probe, at least for now, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. The reasons for his recusal couldn’t immediately be learned.

 

Justice Department’s Antitrust Chief Recuses Himself From Google Probe
Justice Department’s Antitrust Chief Recuses Himself From Google Probe

Antitrust lawyer Ryan Shores, who works in Mr. Rosen’s office, is overseeing the department’s tech reviews, including the Google probe. The department hired him last fall from Shearman & Sterling LLP, part of its effort to add legal firepower as it considers whether to bring a groundbreaking case against Google or other tech companies.

 


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Mr. Delrahim’s recusal had been sought for months by some critics of Google and other Big Tech companies, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a Democratic presidential candidate.


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