Attorney General William Barr overruled career lawyers in the Department of Justice (DOJ), setting a deadline for federal prosecutors to file an antitrust lawsuit against Alphabet—the parent company of Google—by the end of the month, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
According to the report, the team of attorneys who have been working on the case for more than a year strongly oppose the deadline as being too soon to bring a strong case against the tech giant. They worry that Barr is more concerned about filing the high-profile lawsuit before November’s presidential election than allowing the department to complete its investigation.
After officials from the DOJ told attorneys in the department’s Antitrust Division about the filing deadline, many pushed back, penning a memo that “ran hundreds of pages” arguing that the case needed more time. Several of the attorneys also reportedly left the case in protest, with others saying they would refuse to sign the complaint.
The deadline also worried some Antitrust Division attorneys who told the Times they thought Barr wanted to announce the case in advance of the presidential election so that the Trump administration could “take credit” for the action instead of risking it being brought by a possible Biden administration.
“When Mr. Barr imposed a deadline on the investigation, some lawyers feared that the move was in keeping with his willingness to override the recommendations of career lawyers in cases that are of keen interest to President [Donald] Trump, who has accused Google of bias against him,” the report stated. “The Google case could also give Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr an election-season achievement on an issue that both Democrats and Republicans see as a major problem: the influence of the biggest tech companies over consumers and the possibility that their business practices have stifled new competitors and hobbled legacy industries like telecom and media.”
The president last week accused Google of having “rigged” the media landscape by pushing false news stories about him and his administration, though he did not point to anything specific. He generally asserted that Google was dangerously rigging the world of ideas by mostly showing negative “Trump news” penned by “National Left-Wing Media.”
“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent,” Trump tweeted. “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of results on “Trump News” are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”
The government’s probe into Google, which began in July of 2019, has been focused on how the company achieved its ubiquitous place as the top online search engine. The government wants to know if Google did so by engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers. Three people with knowledge of the investigation reportedly said the DOJ had already uncovered “powerful evidence” corroborating Google’s anticompetitive practices, but progress in the case had stalled due to bureaucratic restraints and mismanagement.
The Times said Justice Department spokeswoman Brianna Herlihy declined to comment, while Jose Castaneda, a spokesman for Google, told said the company would “continue to engage with ongoing investigations.”
Castaneda argued that Google, contrary to the beliefs of Barr’s DOJ, has promoted “increased choice and competition.”
[image via Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images]
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