Google agrees to send Schmidt to Capitol Hill

A dispute over who should represent Google at an almost-certainly hostile Senate hearing is resolved, with executive chairman Eric Schmidt agreeing to appear.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will testify before a U.S. Senate hearing on antitrust that could be held as soon as this month.

The agreement, which Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Google confirmed this afternoon, caps a few weeks of public wrangling over who the company would provide to be grilled at a public event that's unlikely to be sympathetic to the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.

In late June, a U.S. Senate panel probing antitrust and Internet search topics publicly threatened to subpoena Schmidt or Google CEO Larry Page. Google had been reluctant to provide either Page or Schmidt for the event, saying other executives would be more appropriate.

Lee said that he's "pleased" that Schmidt will appear. Google said in a statement that Lee and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), the chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, had "expressed a strong desire to have our executive chairman appear in front of the subcommittee and we're happy to accommodate them."

These types of tussles over witness lists are commonplace: politicians know that a CEO's appearance will draw more press attention, so they tend to ask for it. But when Apple was pressed for details about location privacy by a Senate committee this spring, it sent a vice president, not CEO Steve Jobs.

Google had proposed David Drummond, its senior vice president and chief legal officer, who also heads its business development and acquisition teams, as the executive best able to address the committee's concerns.

In 2007, Drummond testified before the Senate antitrust subcommittee about the antitrust implications of the Google-DoubleClick merger. A year later, he returned to the same panel to discuss the proposed advertising relationship with Yahoo.

Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt, file photo. James Martin/CNET

A June 10 letter to Google from Lee and Kohl said: "A hearing on this important topic would be incomplete without the direct perspective and views from one of Google's top two executives, each of whom has played a prominent role at the company throughout the last decade."

The hearing, which could also be held in the fall after the summer recess, marks the latest development in a series of antitrust probes of the search company--which have been quietly encouraged behind the scenes by Google's rivals, especially Microsoft. As CNET reported last month, that lobbying seems to be paying off.

Google confirmed on June 24 that it's the target of at least a preliminary antitrust inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission.

In general, Google has been eager to seek compromises with Washington officialdom. In March, it settled an FTC investigation into Google Buzz by agreeing to a remarkable 20 years of privacy oversight. A few days later, it inked a deal with the Justice Department, including non-discrimination terms, that let it buy ITA Software for $700 million. Most prominently, Google abandoned a proposed advertising partnership with Yahoo at the last minute, a move that avoided a near-certain DOJ antitrust lawsuit.

Just over a billion people worldwide visited Google in May, according to data released last month from ComScore. Microsoft was in a close second place with 905 million visitors last month, up 15 percent from a year earlier.

Disclosure: McCullagh is married to a Google employee.

 

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