Facebook seeks recusal of FTC Chair Lina Khan amid high-profile antitrust case

Lina Khan testifying in Congress April 21, 2021. Photo by Graeme Jennings. Pool photo via Reuters
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., in October 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Al Drago

Facebook sought to block Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan from participating in decisions about the agency’s high-profile antitrust case against the social network, arguing that the prominent technology critic couldn’t be impartial.

The social media company argues in a new recusal petition that Khan’s work prior to joining the commission shows that she “had already decided the material facts relevant to Facebook’s liability in the Commission’s pending antitrust lawsuit and already reached legal conclusions that Facebook was liable under the antitrust laws.”

The petition cites repeated criticisms of Facebook and other tech companies in Khan’s professional history, including her work on the Congressional investigation into large tech companies’ power, her academic writing and her role at the Open Markets Institute, an organization backed by groups that advocate for breaking up Big Tech. (The petition’s filing was first reported by The Wall Street Journal).

Facebook spokesman Chris Sgro said Wednesday the company is making the request to “protect the fairness and impartiality of these proceedings.”

“Chair Khan has consistently made well-documented statements about Facebook and antitrust matters that would lead any reasonable observer to conclude that she has prejudged the Facebook antitrust case brought by the FTC,” he said in a statement.

The filing comes just two weeks before the FTC’s deadline to refile an amended antitrust suit against Facebook, after a federal judge threw out its first complaint last month for failing to prove that Facebook maintained a monopoly.

With this filing, Facebook is taking a page from Amazon’s playbook. The e-commerce giant filed a similar petition two weeks ago, arguing that Khan would be unable to oversee matters involving the company with “an open mind.”

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The FTC declined to comment on Facebook’s move. But Khan noted during her Senate confirmation hearing that she holds “none of the financial conflicts or personal ties that are the basis of recusal under federal ethics laws.”

“I would be approaching these issues with an eye to the underlying facts and the empirics and really be following the evidence,” she said in response to Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who asked if her work on the 16-month House investigation into the power of Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon would be a basis for recusal.

The corporate resistance to Khan is emerging just weeks after President Joe Biden elevated her to the helm of the agency tasked with policing Silicon Valley, amid a broader administration effort to tackle concentration and anticompetitive behavior throughout the economy. Khan was standing next to Biden last week as he signed a wide-ranging executive order that outlined 72 initiatives challenging the business practices of corporate giants across technology, health-care and agriculture. It specifically took aim at the path Facebook has taken to dominance, calling for greater scrutiny of acquisitions made by tech titans.

 

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