GOP senators demand oversight hearing into Obama FTC’s deal with Google

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Three senators are demanding the Senate Judiciary Committee convene a hearing examining new alarm over the Obama-era Federal Trade Commission’s decision not to take antitrust action against Google a decade ago.

Their request comes after new reporting by POLITICO showed the FTC declined to act despite evidence of potential violations of the law that came to light in the agency’s 19-month investigation into the search giant.

POLITICO, which published its reports this week, had obtained hundreds of pages of previously undisclosed confidential documents about the case.

Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Lee of Utah and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee sent letters Thursday to Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and acting FTC Chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter demanding a public session to “conduct oversight into enforcement — or underenforcement — of our nation’s antitrust laws,” including testimony from top Google executives and then-FTC commissioners.

“The reporting confirms what has become increasingly apparent in recent years: Confronted with the most consequential antitrust case in a generation and ample evidence of market dominance and misconduct, the nation’s antitrust enforcers failed to act,” the senators wrote to Durbin. “The FTC’s inaction has had broad-sweeping implications for our economy, our culture and our democracy … far beyond the actions and market power of a single firm.”

“Regulators responsible for this era of underenforcement, which has resulted in unprecedented economic concentration, must be held to account, on the record,” they added.

Many of the individuals who were on the front lines of the Obama FTC’s probe are still involved in Washington’s antitrust fights with the tech giants — in some cases, now playing for the opposite side.

Google dismissed the rehashing of the FTC’s 2012 decision as a “D.C. parlor game.”

The memos obtained by POLITICO “conclusively confirm that the decision to not bring an antitrust case against the design of Google’s search engine was supported by clear and unambiguous recommendations by all sections of the FTC who reviewed it, including the Bureau of Competition, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Bureau of Economics and the Office of the General Counsel,” Google’s director of competition legal, Rosie Lipscomb, wrote in a blog post.

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