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A top aide to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan has told an Israeli newspaper that he expects Congress to break up Facebook and Google — adding that lawmakers have made it clear that “all of these companies are going to be on the butcher's table.”
“I'm not sure if they will be broken up in the next few years, but from the perspective of legislation, their judgment has been written,” FTC attorney adviser Shaoul Sussman said in an interview with The Marker, a Hebrew-language business newspaper, according to a translation that POLITICO confirmed with independent experts. The article was published in May, two months before Sussman joined the agency, but appears to have been previously unreported in English-language media.
Sussman cited anger at the big tech companies among lawmakers of both parties, including conservatives like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
In a second article in the same paper, published Sunday, Sussman said he hoped U.S. lawmakers would look beyond the largest tech giants as they craft changes to the antitrust laws. Otherwise, he said, Congress could fail to act on “monopolies in agriculture, health and telecommunications.”
The latest publication of Sussman’s remarks comes amid rising tension between Khan’s agency and tech giants like Facebook and Amazon, which have accused her of having already made up her mind on the need for antitrust action against their companies. Khan took part in an August decision to file a suit seeking to break up Facebook, after the FTC’s general counsel dismissed a petition by the company that sought to knock her out of the probe. Amazon remains the subject of an FTC antitrust probe related to its conduct and a separate investigation into its proposed merger with MGM Studios.
FTC spokesperson Peter Kaplan said the quotes in both articles were from an April interview Sussman gave to The Marker before he joined the FTC and don’t violate a public speaking ban the agency instituted on FTC staff in late June. Kaplan didn’t have an immediate comment on whether Khan agrees with Sussman’s views about the need for broader antitrust legislation.
Sussman did not immediately reply to attempts to reach him for comment Monday.
Sussman has recused himself from the FTC’s Amazon probe because he previously represented an Amazon seller in a House Judiciary Committee antitrust investigation of online markets. Khan, a progressive anti-monopolist and former Columbia Law School professor, served as an aide to the same House probe.
President Joe Biden’s decision to name Khan the FTC’s chair in June elated antitrust advocates who want the agency to take a harder line against the tech industry’s biggest players. She soon tapped Sussman, formerly an attorney at the New York law firm Pearl Cohen and a fellow at anti-Amazon group Institute for Local Self-Reliance, to serve as her top antitrust adviser.
While Khan is allowed four advisers to help her make decisions on the FTC’s priorities and cases, she has yet to hire the other three.
In the May article with The Marker, Sussman said he expected that Facebook and Google will be broken up — not because of any predecided animus at the FTC but because so many members of Congress are determined to do it.
“I'm not sure if they will be broken up in the next few years, but from the perspective of legislation, their judgment has been written,” Sussman said at the time. “If a year ago you would have asked me, I would have said there’s no chance at all. But if they do not manage to dismantle them, the senators and members of Congress will see it as a personal failure.”
He added: “Josh Hawley introduced the bill to break up Amazon and Google and he's an extreme conservative and he said ‘all of these companies are going to be on the butcher's table.’"
The subsequent article, published Sunday, featured Sussman as one of three Israelis helping shape Biden administration policies alongside Orly Lobel, a professor at University of San Diego School of Law, and University of Hong Kong economist Roni Michaely. Both Lobel’s work on non-compete agreements in employment contracts and Michaely’s research on growing concentration in U.S. industries were cited in Biden’s recent executive order on promoting competition.
In that story, Sussman expressed hope that Congress will not stop after dealing with a handful of the most massive tech companies.
"There is a danger that the focus will be on the four digital giants, and after that, inertia will run out, which would have led to more systemic legislation,” Sussman said. “Other areas are forgotten, monopolies in agriculture, health and cellular/telecommunications — which are not connected to Apple or Google — are forgotten. In the U.S., for example, people pay the highest phone rates in the world, but people don’t have an issue with it.”