Elizabeth Warren wants DOJ antitrust chief removed from Google, Apple investigation

The senator says Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim has a conflict of interest because he previously lobbied the government on behalf of Google and Apple.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
3 min read

Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants big tech companies pulled apart.

Angela Lang/CNET

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has asked Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim to remove himself from heading up the antitrust investigation into Google and Apple . Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, says Delrahim's previous work as a lobbyist on behalf of the two tech giants makes for a conflict of interest. 

The US Department of Justice is investigating Silicon Valley's tech juggernauts over whether they're engaging in "anticompetitive conduct." The investigation was announced June 3 after reports emerged May 31 that the DOJ would be preparing a Google antitrust investigation, followed by reports of an Apple antitrust probe.

Warren's letter on Tuesday (PDF) says Delrahim, the DOJ's chief antitrust attorney, was hired to lobby federal antitrust officials about Google's DoubleClick advertising company back in 2007. He reported an estimated $100,000 in income from Google that year, according to Warren.

She also said Delrahim was hired by Apple in 2006 and 2007 to lobby the US government on patent reform. He was a corporate lobbyist until 2016, her letter says, also representing chip giant and Apple's 5G chip partner, Qualcomm.

"Given your extensive and lucrative previous work lobbying the federal government on behalf of Google and Apple -- particularly your work to aid Google in its acquisition of DoubleClick Inc. -- any reasonable person would surely question your impartiality in antitrust matters involving Google," she said.

"You should not be supervising investigations into former clients who paid you tens of thousands of dollars to lobby the federal government."

The DOJ declined to comment.

Warren's presidential platform includes a call to break up tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple because they have too much power over the economy, society and democracy.

"They've bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit and tilted the playing field against everyone else," Warren wrote in a March blog post. "And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation."

She has suggested laws that would prevent large e-commerce companies with global revenue of $25 billion or more from owning the platform and any sellers on it.

Delrahim speaks out on tech companies and antitrust

Earlier Tuesday, Delrahim spoke about technology companies and the antitrust investigation, saying the key issue is whether tech giants are successful due to superior quality, innovation and pricing, or because they're engaging in anticompetitive business practices.

"The current landscape suggests there are only one or two significant players in important digital spaces, including internet search, social networks, mobile and desktop operating systems and electronic book sales," he said in a speech at the Antitrust New Frontiers Conference in Tel Aviv, Israel. "Just two firms take in the lion's share of online ad spending."

The US Federal Trade Commission had attempted to break up Microsoft in the '90s after opening an investigation into the software giant at the start of that decade. The FTC looked into whether Microsoft was running a software monopoly with Windows. Ten years later, a federal judge said Microsoft must be separated into two companies, but the decision was overturned on appeal. However, new restrictions were still placed on the company.

Delrahim credited the US government's successful antitrust case against Microsoft as paving the way for the success of Google, Apple and Yahoo.