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Indian American Lina Khan, the newly appointed US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chief has received a petition from eCommerce giant Amazon Inc asking her to step aside from anti-trust investigations of the company.
Khan, a 32-year-old legal prodigy was confirmed as head of the FTC just two weeks ago, and is reportedly probing the company’s $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM Studios.
Khan has been known as a strident critic of the Big Tech. Amazon says it is impossible for Khan to be impartial, given her past criticism of the company.
Prior to becoming FTC head, Khan wrote extensively on antitrust and Amazon in both legal and popular media. For example, in a 2014 Quartz op-ed, Khan wrote that “Amazon has a monopoly in books” and a “dominant position in our economy.”
“Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” is one of Khan’s most influential papers, written when she was a law student at Yale University.
In a 25-page motion that Amazon filed with the FTC on Wednesday, the company pointed to these articles and others as examples of Khan’s alleged inability to treat the company fairly.
“Given her long track record of detailed pronouncements about Amazon, and her repeated proclamations that Amazon has violated the antitrust laws, a reasonable observer would conclude that she no longer can consider the company’s antitrust defenses with an open mind,” the company headed by billionaire Jeff Bezos wrote in the motion.
Amazon’s letter, which cuts the chase in the opening paragraph, reads: “Amazon.com, Inc. respectfully petitions the Commission for recusal of Chair Lina Khan from any antitrust investigation, adjudication, litigation, or other proceedings in which Amazon is a subject, target or defendant for which Chair Khan’s prior public statements create the appearance of her having prejudged facts and/or legal issues relevant to the proceeding.”
Khan was also a leading member of a House investigation into the tech industry, a probe that resulted in a landmark report last summer finding that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google hold monopoly power and have abused it at the expense of fair competition. The report has sparked six bills in the House aimed at breaking up large tech platforms and imposing new restrictions on them.
In a statement after the petition was filed, an Amazon spokesperson said the company welcomed close scrutiny.
“However, even large companies have the right to an impartial investigation,” the spokesperson said. “Chair Khan’s body of work and public statements demonstrate that she has prejudged the outcome of matters the FTC may examine during her term and, under established law, preclude her from participating in such matters.”
Federal ethics principles require commissioners to recuse themselves when they have “expressed views that go beyond general policy commentary” and relate instead to specific companies, Amazon argued.
A spokesperson for the FTC did not reply to a request for comment.
Khan’s reported probe into Amazon’s MGM acquisition got a boost Wednesday when Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent the FTC chair a letter calling for “meticulous antitrust scrutiny” of the transaction.
She is one of three FTC Democratic commissioners. The FTC is currently led by three Democrats and two Republicans; one Democratic commissioner, Rohit Chopra, has been nominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In 2019 and 2020, as counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, Khan played a crucial role in a landmark bipartisan investigation of US tech giants’ market power.