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Justice Department’s Google inquiry loses top antitrust official

Reportedly due to a conflict of interest

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The Justice Department’s head of antitrust, Makan Delrahim, has recused himself from the department’s investigation into Google over a conflict of interest, The New York Times is reporting. The conflict of interest reportedly stems from Delrahim’s previous work as a lawyer, when in 2007 he was contracted to lobby on behalf of the search giant’s acquisition of the adtech company DoubleClick.

In a statement, the Justice department confirmed the move to the NYT. “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, “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.”

The loss of the department’s top antitrust official comes as the inquiry is thought to have entered a more serious phase. Last week it was reported that the Justice Department was meeting with at least seven state attorneys general, potentially paving the way for the two groups to combine their investigations into Google. The Justice Department’s investigation into Google was first reported in May last year, while the attorneys general announced their investigation in September.

Delrahim’s potential conflicts of interest have previously been criticized by democratic nominee Senator Elizabeth Warren, who questioned his impartiality after he was paid $100,000 by Google to lobby on behalf of its DoubleClick acquisition in 2007. Throughout the course of her campaign, Warren has been vocal about her desire to break up the big tech companies, including Google. Later that year, text messages emerged that appeared to show Delrahim facilitating negotiations between Sprint and T-Mobile to help their merger receive the FCC’s approval.

The DoJ investigation will now be lead by associate deputy attorney Ryan Shores, and deputy assistant attorney general Alex Okuliar, the agency said in a statement.