DOJ Solicited Outside Law Firm for Help With Tech Antitrust Case
Signage is displayed outside the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

DOJ Solicited Outside Law Firm for Help With Tech Antitrust Case

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Justice Department has sought outside legal help to bolster its antitrust investigations of large technology platforms, according to two people familiar with the matter, in a sign that the government may be preparing a lawsuit against one or more of the companies.

The department approached at least one law firm about working on the government’s behalf, said the people. That firm -- Kellogg Hansen Todd Figel & Frederick PLLC -- declined to take on the assignment because of a conflict, according to one of the people, who asked not to be named because the investigation is confidential.

The agency has opened investigations into Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc., following a July announcement of a broad probe into whether tech platforms are stifling competition. It wasn’t clear which case the department was seeking help for, or whether it will ultimately go through with hiring an outside firm.

The move, however, may be a sign the Justice Department is preparing for litigation against the tech companies. Attorney General William Barr said in December that the probe was moving “very quickly” and that he wanted to complete it some time this year.

A nationwide coalition of states is also investigating the companies and is working with the Justice Department.

The Justice Department declined to comment. Michael Kellogg, one of the founding partners of Kellogg Hansen, where Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch once worked, didn’t respond to a request seeking comment.

While the hiring of outside lawyers is rare, it’s not unheard of. The department in the past has turned to private counsel to take on high-profile litigation, most notably when it hired David Boies to spearhead the landmark antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. two decades ago.

In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission similarly hired a top Washington litigator, Beth Wilkinson, then a partner with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, to help with its antitrust investigation of Google. The agency ultimately closed that investigation without taking action.

An outside firm would enhance the department’s resources if it decided to sue. Litigation against one of the tech giants could be a monumental, years-long undertaking. The Justice Department’s case against Microsoft started in 1998 and ended in 2002, when a court approved a settlement.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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