The chairman of the U.S. Senate’s anti-trust panel has some tough questions for the Federal Trade Commission and Google — and possibly even the White House.
Sen. Mike Lee, (Utah-Rep.) is heading up a preliminary inquiry into the meetings held between the FTC and Google while the tech company was under investigation for its business practices, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.
The probe comes after a WSJ article accused the FTC of dropping an anti-trust investigation into Google after being pressured to do so by the White House. The article, using visitor logs and e-mails, detailed how Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page met with top FTC officials to discuss settlement talks. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, meanwhile, met in the White House with a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Pete Rouse.
Although the documents obtained by the WSJ did not reveal what was discussed, the FTC did suspend its probe into Google not long after. That decision came despite a 2012 FTC report into Google’s actions revealed the search engine firm was, in fact, using its dominance as a search engine to snuff out the competition.
Sources at the senator’s office told the WSJ Lee hopes to determine what conversations took place between the FTC and Google.
The sources also said Lee could later expand his inquiry to include conversations White House personnel had with the FTC and Google to determine if anyone within the Obama administration pressured the FTC to be lenient with Google.
When questioned at a press briefing, White House spokesman Eric Schultz described the FTC as “an independent organization, which makes decisions independently.” He said meetings between Google officials and White House aides are not unusual.
“We meet with business leaders all the time,” he said.
Both Google and the FTC have denied any allegations of wrong-doing as well.
The FTC last week said the Wall Street Journal’s article about its investigation was full of “misleading inferences and suggestions.”
“The article suggests that a series of disparate and unrelated meetings involving FTC officials and executive branch officials or Google representatives somehow affected the Commission’s decision to close the search investigation in early 2013,” the FTC said in a statement. “Not a single fact is offered to substantiate this misleading narrative.”
Google, meanwhile, penned a blog post that accused Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp., which owns the WSJ, of being out to get the tech firm.