Google is asking the Justice Department to look into whether Jonathan Kanter, the new head of the antitrust division, should work on the lawsuit against the company.
Kanter, who was confirmed earlier this week, has been a favorite of progressive antitrust advocates and Big Tech skeptics across the aisle for his longtime work with Google foes like Yelp, Microsoft and the News Media Alliance.
A Google spokesman, Peter Schottenfels, said in a statement that Kanter's "work representing competitors who have advocated for the cases brought by the department raise serious concerns."
The Justice Department and several states are suing Google, alleging it violated antitrust laws with its efforts to distribute its search engine onto mobile phones in particular. The letter, from an outside firm representing Google, cites ethics regulations to question "whether a reasonable person would find [Assistant Attorney General] Kanter impartial with respect to the Department's investigations and litigation related to Google."
The letter echoes the so-far unsuccessful efforts by Amazon and Facebook to secure the recusal of Lina Khan, the Federal Trade Commission chair who has been critical of both companies' competitive conduct. Amazon is under FTC investigation, and the commission is suing Facebook. (The FTC and Justice Department share responsibility for antitrust enforcement.)
Given the Justice Department's purview, Kanter has faced questions about his former clients as well as those of his old law firm, which include Apple. Allies of Kanter's have argued that he is not "switching sides" in the Google matter, having opposed the company in his private practice and now doing so in public service. Though Yelp and Microsoft have both had disputes over producing documents in the U.S.'s Google case, his one-time clients also may be not "parties" to the lawsuit, which is generally the scope of ethics regulations.
In paperwork filed with the government ahead of his confirmation, Kanter agreed to consult with department ethics officials on recusal matters and follow all rules.