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Facebook seeks FTC Chair Lina Khan’s recusal from anti-monopoly case

By Brian Fung, CNN Business

Facebook said Wednesday that recently appointed Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan should recuse herself from all future decision-making about the agency’s lawsuit to break up the social media company.

In a formal petition before the FTC, Facebook alleged that Khan’s work investigating Big Tech on behalf of the House Judiciary Committee — along with her prior academic work that has been critical of Silicon Valley — disqualifies her from getting involved in the agency’s antitrust case against Facebook.

Her past record, attorneys for Facebook argued, “would lead any disinterested observer to conclude that she has prejudged Facebook’s alleged antitrust liability.” The petition added: “Chair Khan’s recusal is necessary in order to protect the fairness and impartiality of the proceedings.”

The FTC declined to comment.

In June, a federal judge dismissed the FTC’s complaint accusing Facebook of illegally maintaining a monopoly. The FTC lawsuit, which was filed last year before Khan’s appointment, had said Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp harmed competition and called for a breakup of the social media giant.

The judge in the case said regulators had not provided enough initial evidence to back up its monopoly claims, but gave the agency a chance to amend and re-file by the end of July. The second chance potentially creates an opening for Khan to put her own imprint on the case.

Facebook’s petition follows a similar move by Amazon, which last month filed its own recusal petition amid reports the FTC would review the company’s acquisition of film studio MGM.

Khan was 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 2017, Khan published an influential paper in the Yale Law Journal highlighting alleged antitrust violations by Amazon. The paper is widely credited with having jump-started a national debate about US antitrust law and whether it is sufficient to hold Big Tech platforms accountable.

Antitrust experts say a recusal would hinge on the specifics of Khan’s prior claims about each company.

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