Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Barr’s Interest in Google Antitrust Case Keeps It Moving Swiftly

Kadhim Shubber, reporting earlier this week for the Financial Times:

Two US prosecutors are set to testify on Wednesday that politics drove Department of Justice decisions in cases linked to Donald Trump.

[…]

The second prosecutor, John Elias, works in the antitrust division and had previously been chief of staff to Makan Delrahim, the Trump appointee who heads the division.

Mr Elias said in his written testimony that on August 22 2019, the political leadership of the antitrust division ordered an investigation of four carmakers — Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW — just a day after Mr Trump tweeted about them.

The president had criticised the companies for agreeing to emissions reductions with California that were stricter than rules his administration was attempting to push through at the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The memo opening the inquiry had no staff recommendation, stating instead that the division “would like to open an investigation”, and was generated by policy lawyers at the division, rather than enforcement attorneys as would be typical, Mr Elias said.

David McCabe and Cecilia Kang, New York Times:

For months, lawyers at the Justice Department have been marshaling their forces for a possible antitrust lawsuit against Google, spurred on by the personal interest of Attorney General William P. Barr.

The day-to-day digging of a federal antitrust investigation rarely rises to the level of the attorney general or the deputy attorney general.

But under Mr. Barr, the agency has made top priority of looking into the country’s biggest tech companies. He receives regular updates on the Google case from an aide, according to several people close to the investigations, while an official in the office of his deputy, Jeffrey Rosen, oversees the investigations into tech companies.

It is possible that there is a legitimate antitrust case to be brought against Google, and that Barr and this administration have so corrupted the Department of Justice as to render that case compromised from the start.

I think an investigation into Google’s control of online advertising is long overdue — I still cannot believe that it was allowed to buy DoubleClick. There are probably cases that can be brought against Amazon, Apple, and Facebook as well. But the Trump administration’s will struggle to levy legitimate arguments due to the undercurrent of personal retribution these cases carry. The Department of Justice is doing the dirty work of a president with a personal enemies list longer than Nixon’s and a truly next level lack of self-awareness.

You can tell that this administration doesn’t care about companies taking advantage of uncompetitive markets because they have not indicated any concerns about ISPs and cellular carriers. In fact, you’ll remember that Barr’s Antitrust Division allowed the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile to sail through earlier this year.