US antitrust chief leaving Google probe because of lobbying

FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2019 file photo, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, speaks at the Justice Department in Washington. Delrahim, the Justice Department official leading the investigation of big tech companies market dominance is stepping aside from the departments Google probe because of his previous lobbying work for Google. A person familiar with the matter says Delrahim is recusing himself from the investigation into Google. The person wasnt authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) (Copyright 2018 the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Justice Department official leading the investigation of big tech companies’ market dominance is stepping aside from the department’s Google probe because of his previous lobbying work for Google as a private attorney.

Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, the department's antitrust chief, is recusing himself from the investigation into Google, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday. Word of Delrahim's recusal came as other Justice Department officials met with state attorneys general to discuss their parallel investigations of Google and cooperation in enforcing antitrust laws in the tech industry.

The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Delrahim lobbied on Google’s behalf in 2007 when the Mountain View, California-based search giant faced antitrust scrutiny over its acquisition of DoubleClick, a competitor in digital advertising.

The Justice Department’s ethics office apparently found no potential conflict of interest when Delrahim sought guidance as the investigation of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple began last spring. But as the competition probe progressed, Delrahim “revisited” potential conflicts with the ethics staff, and he and the ethics office "have decided that he should now recuse himself from a matter within the tech review in an abundance of caution,” said a department statement, which did not mention Google.

Associate Deputy Attorney General Ryan Shores will continue to oversee the tech review, the statement said.

Shores, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and staff of the antitrust division met at Justice Department headquarters with state attorneys general “to continue strengthening their multilateral antitrust law-enforcement cooperation concerning technology markets," the department said in a separate statement. “The Department of Justice looks forward to continued bipartisan cooperation with the states."

Attorneys general for 50 states and territories are participating in the Google investigation, taking a deep look into the company's advertising business. They have asked Google for internal documents related to how it sells ads and tracks the behavior of people who use its search engine and other products.