When the Federal Trade Commission neared a momentous decision on whether to charge Google with violating antitrust laws in January 2013, the White House was watching closely.
New emails uncovered by the Campaign for Accountability, a public interest watchdog organization, show that a White House advisor met with top Google lobbyist Johanna Shelton and top Google antitrust counsel Matthew Bye twice in the weeks before the FTC announcement.
And hours prior to the final decision – in which FTC commissioners took the unusual step of overriding their staff’s recommendation to sue, and voted to settle the case instead – the White House official even sought Google’s talking points in the matter.
The FTC is an independent agency within the executive branch. As with the Justice Department, the White House political staff is prohibited from contacting federal regulators who might bring a formal case on behalf of the government. And ever since Richard Nixon stifled the antitrust investigation into ITT, a major donor, White House interference in antitrust cases has been particularly forbidden.