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DOJ antitrust chief recuses himself from the Google probe

DOJ antitrust chief recuses himself from the Google probe
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Makan Delrahim, U.S. assistant attorney general for the antitrust division, listens during a Bloomberg Television interview at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. The conference brings together leaders in business, government, technology, philanthropy, academia, and the media to discuss actionable and collaborative solutions to some of the most important questions of our time. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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The top antitrust official at the Department of Justice is recusing himself from the agency’s investigation of potentially anticompetitive behavior at Google due to potential conflicts of interest in his past.

Delrahim was previously hired as a lobbyist who helped shepherd Google’s $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007. DoubleClick has become a key part of Google’s advertising business, which has raised antitrust concerns.

“As the technology review progressed, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim revisited potential conflicts with previous work with the Department of Justice’s ethics office,” a spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC after The New York Times first reported the recusal. “He and the ethics office have decided that he should now recuse himself from a matter within the tech review in an abundance of caution. Associate Deputy Attorney General Ryan Shores will continue to oversee the tech review. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Alex Okuliar, who joined the Antitrust Division last week, will also assist with the tech review.”

Critics including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have called for Delrahim’s recusal in light of the potential conflict. Warren also said in a June letter to Delrahim that he should recuse himself from any probes of Apple since he had previously been hired to lobby federal officials on its behalf on patent reform.

“As the head of the antitrust division at the DOJ, you should not be supervising investigations into former clients who paid you tens of thousands of dollars to lobby the federal government,” Warren wrote at the time. “American consumers and markets deserve the confidence that the DOJ will conduct any antitrust investigation into Google or Apple with integrity, impartiality, and with the best interest of competitive markets and consumers in mind.”

-CNBC’s Lauren Hirsch contributed to this report.

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