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Justice Department plans to file antitrust charges against Google in coming weeks

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / JUNE 2014
                                People walked past a Google sign at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The Justice Department plans to bring an antitrust case against Google as soon as this month.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / JUNE 2014

    People walked past a Google sign at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The Justice Department plans to bring an antitrust case against Google as soon as this month.

WASHINGTON >> The Justice Department plans to bring an antitrust case against Google as soon as this month, after Attorney General William Barr overruled career lawyers who said they needed more time to build a strong case against one of the world’s wealthiest, most formidable technology companies, according to five people briefed on internal department conversations.

Justice Department officials told lawyers involved in the antitrust inquiry into Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, to wrap up their work by the end of September, according to three of the people. Most of the 40-odd lawyers who had been working on the investigation opposed the deadline. Some said they would not sign the complaint, and several of them left the case this summer.

Disagreement persisted among the team over how broad the complaint should be and what Google could do to resolve the problems the government uncovered. The lawyers viewed the deadline as arbitrary.

While there were disagreements about tactics, career lawyers also expressed concerns that Barr wanted to announce the case in September to take credit for action against a powerful tech company under the Trump administration.

When Barr imposed a deadline on the investigation, some lawyers feared that the move was in keeping with his willingness to override the recommendations of career lawyers in cases that are of keen interest to President Donald Trump, who has accused Google of bias against him.

The Google case could also give Trump and Barr an election-season achievement on an issue that both Democrats and Republicans see as a major problem: the influence of the biggest tech companies over consumers and the possibility that their business practices have stifled new competitors and hobbled legacy industries like telecom and media.

A coalition of 50 states and territories support antitrust action against Google, a reflection of the broad bipartisan support that a Justice Department case might have.

Brianna Herlihy, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the continuing investigation. Jose Castaneda, a spokesman for Google, said that the company would “continue to engage with ongoing investigations” and that its business practices enabled “increased choice and competition.”

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