August 04, 2021

Warren, Blumenthal, Booker, Jayapal Call on Amazon and Facebook to Cease Coordinated Efforts to Discredit FTC Chair Khan

Internet Giants’ Attacks Are “Illogical and Inconsistent” with Federal Ethics Law

“Efforts to sideline Chair Khan appear to be nothing more than attempts to force an FTC stalemate that would allow you to evade accountability for any anti-competitive behavior”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) along with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), sent a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Andy Jassy and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling on them to cease their efforts to force Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan to recuse herself from federal antitrust matters involving their companies.

The companies have attempted to bully Chair Khan into recusal, citing federal ethics and conflicts of interest laws. However, as the lawmakers wrote in their letter, “Chair Khan has no ... conflicts that would require recusal…There is no basis for her recusal under the current federal ethics statute or FTC precedent. Your efforts to sideline Chair Khan appear to be nothing more than attempts to force an FTC stalemate that would allow you to evade accountability for any anti-competitive behavior.”

Federal ethics laws clearly define the conflicts of interest that would require recusal: “any arrangement concerning prospective employment (or) a financial interest,” and Office of Government Ethics regulations contain additional guidance on these potential conflicts, calling for recusal when “a particular matter involving specific parties is likely to have a direct and predictable effect on the financial interest of a member of his household, or knows that a person with whom he has a covered relationship is or represents a party to such matter.” Chair Kahn testified in her Senate confirmation hearing that "​I have none of the financial conflicts or personal ties that are the basis for recusal under federal ethics laws, and I would be approaching these issues with an eye to the underlying facts and the empirics and really be following the evidence.”

The letter comes after Amazon and Facebook both recently filed petitions to the FTC urging newly appointed Chairwoman Lina Khan to recuse herself from multiple ongoing antitrust  matters involving their companies, claiming she lacks objectivity due to her past criticisms of their business practices. Prior to Chair Khan’s appointment in June 2021, federal regulators were already in the throes of investigating anticompetitive practices among tech platforms, including Facebook and Amazon, under the Trump Administration. It remains to be seen whether the FTC will decide to handle such matters through in-house administrative proceedings or through federal court. If the latter occurs, then Chair Khan would be “handing over the ability to rule on the outcome of the case to a federal judge” – likely rendering these recusal requests moot, particularly in cases in which the FTC launched its prosecution before Chair Khan’s tenure.

“Despite this uncertainty, both of your companies have engaged in a coordinated attack to discredit Chair Khan on ethics grounds, even – in the case of Amazon – going so far as to request immunity from any future antitrust investigations,” the lawmakers wrote.

In December 2020, Senator Warren reintroduced the Anti-Corruption & Public Integrity Act to padlock the government-to-lobbying revolving door, strengthen federal ethics rules and enforcement, and restore the American public's faith in democracy, which has been at “historic lows” for over a decade.