Texas Bombshell on Bribe Claims Threatens States’ Google Probe

Texas Bombshell on Bribe Claims Threatens States’ Google Probe

The multistate investigation of Alphabet Inc.’s Google is at risk of splintering further after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the probe, was accused by his senior aides of potential crimes, including bribery.

Paxton fired back against the allegations Monday saying that they’re false, came from “rogue employees” and that he won’t step down.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association on Sunday called on Paxton to resign, saying that the allegations by seven top officials from his office threatened their “joint work,” which includes a bipartisan probe into whether Google is violating antitrust laws.

“Any allegation that bribes were accepted demands a serious review of Paxton’s influence and decisions regarding cases and settlements involving his office,” the Democratic group said.

The leaders of DAGA, Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Oregon’s Ellen Rosenblum, didn’t respond to requests for comment about how the accusations against Paxton would affect the Google investigation.

Splits in the state coalition were already surfacing before the allegations against Paxton. With the Justice Department preparing to file its own lawsuit against Google within the next two weeks, some attorneys general are urging their colleagues not to join the federal case and instead work with another group of states led by Colorado and Iowa that are pursuing a separate investigation, according to people familiar with the matter.

Some states view the federal case -- in which Attorney General William Barr is taking a close interest -- as being rushed and they want more time to investigate evidence collected, according to one of the people. Doug Peterson of Nebraska, a Republican, has urged more states to join the effort led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, both Democrats, the person said.

That group is targeting Google’s search operations and has started previewing the outlines of a potential case to other states, according to another person familiar with the matter. The effort is leaving Texas, which has been focused on Google’s conduct in the digital advertising market, increasingly isolated, the person said. The group could file their own complaint against Google after the election, a different person said.

The Justice Department has struggled to attract sign-on from Democrats and at the moment the number of Republicans leaning toward joining the federal case is in the teens, that person said.

Spokespeople for the Justice Department and the Colorado Attorney General’s office declined to comment, while representatives from the Nebraska and Iowa attorney generals offices didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, told Bloomberg on Sept. 25, that Democratic colleagues who wouldn’t join the federal case were “hypocritical” and engaging in “pure politics” -- comments that upset other states on the investigation team, according to two of the people.

Paxton announced the states’ Google investigation in 2019 from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their probe came on the heels of the Justice Department’s own investigation into the search giant. Together, they represent potentially the most significant monopoly case in the U.S. in two decades. Texas has been expected to sign on to the Justice Department’s case, which will target Google’s conduct in online search, Bloomberg has reported.

Texas also has been investigating Google over the digital advertising market, where the search giant also has a dominant position in the technology used to buy and sell display ads across the web.

Now the accusations against Paxton are throwing Texas’s Google inquiries into question. On Oct. 1, seven Paxton aides signed a letter saying they had “a good faith belief that the Attorney General is violating federal and/or state law, including prohibitions relating to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses.” The letter was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.

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