A Senate panel plans to investigate whether the White House inappropriately derailed a federal investigation into accusations that Google was stifling online competition.
Sen. Mike Lee, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary's Antitrust Subcommittee, plans to contact the Federal Trade Commission, Google, and other online companies to discuss the issue, Emily Long, a spokeswoman for the Utah Republican, said Monday. The subcommittee has no plans yet to hold a hearing on the issue, she said.
The Senate probe comes after The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that FTC staff had prepared a report in 2012 recommending that the agency take Google to court for abusing its market power in online search and advertising. In early 2013, the five FTC commissioners rejected the staff recommendation and voted not to pursue charges against Google.
The FTC meant to keep that staff recommendation secret but accidentally disclosed portions of the report to the Journal in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Documents that include sensitive business information or internal agency deliberations are usually exempt from public information requests.
Last week, the Journal reported that the FTC only closed its investigation after a flurry of meetings between top Google executives and officials at the FTC and the White House. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and other company executives have close ties to the White House, and a number of former Google employees have joined the Obama administration. Since the beginning of the Obama administration, Google employees have met with White House officials an average of once a week, the paper reported.