Biden Moving to Name Antitrust Scholar Lina Khan to FTC Post

The White House is vetting Lina Khan, a Columbia Law School antitrust expert who is a critic of large technology companies, for the Federal Trade Commission, and President Joe Biden is likely to nominate her, according to people familiar with the matter.

The FBI is conducting a background check on Khan, one of the people said, which would pave the way to her nomination. A second person said that her nomination is proceeding.

White House spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment. Politico reported earlier that Biden had decided to nominate her for the FTC.

Her selection would be another signal that the president is preparing to square off against the technology industry’s biggest companies. The people familiar with the matter asked not to be identified because her nomination hasn’t been announced.

Khan, whose research focuses on technology markets, previously worked as an aide to FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra as well as for the New America Foundation and its spin-off, the Open Markets Institute. In a 2017 article for the Yale Law Journal titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” she argued that current U.S. antitrust law insufficiently counters the anti-competitive effects of Amazon-type, platform-based business models.

Biden Moving to Name Antitrust Scholar Lina Khan to FTC Post

Khan “has been one of the brightest intellectual stars in the antitrust world in a generation -- broadly recognized, even by people that don’t agree with her,” Sarah Miller, the executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, said in an interview.

Khan also served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, which conducted a 16-month investigation into tech companies and determined that the biggest internet platforms have all abused their gatekeeper power over the digital economy. The panel is preparing to introduce legislation to reform antitrust laws.

The committee’s report recommended a series of far-reaching antitrust reforms, including a measure that would prohibit a dominant tech platform from operating in competition with the firms dependent on it -- much the way banking laws once barred large lenders from acquiring insurers, real estate firms, and other non-banking companies. The committee also recommended restrictions on acquisitions by dominant firms.

Khan’s selection follows the March 5 announcement that Biden would tap another Columbia law professor, Timothy Wu, to join the National Economic Council as a special assistant on technology and competition policy.

Wu has been an outspoken advocate for aggressive antitrust enforcement against U.S. technology giants. His appointment elevates to a senior position in the administration a leading antitrust expert, favored by progressives, who has assailed the power of dominant tech companies like Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. Both companies were sued by U.S. antitrust enforcers last year for allegedly abusing their monopoly power.

If confirmed by the Senate, Khan would join the five-member FTC at a time when tech giants are grappling with a reckoning in Washington that could transform the industry.

A lawsuit the FTC and state attorneys general brought against Facebook in December could lead to the breakup of the company, while the Justice Department’s complaint against Google targets the heart of its business -- internet search.

Antitrust enforcers have also opened investigations of Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc.

Other key and as-yet unfilled antitrust positions in Biden’s administration include a chief for the Justice Department’s antitrust division and permanent chairman for the FTC.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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