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Lee, Top Staffer Used to Represent Google Antagonist

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Mike Lee arrives with members of his staff for Wednesday's Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights hearing.

Later, Lee made clear his dissatisfaction with Schmidt's responses. "Some of my fears, I have to say, have been confirmed," Lee said.

Lee's performance Wednesday raised eyebrows, particularly among conservatives and libertarians who normally find themselves aligned with him.

Nick Schulz, the Dewitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Wednesday, "I watched his line of questioning of Schmidt, and I know he's been very interested in pursuing" whether Google's dominance is a monopoly.

Although Schulz said he understands the impetus behind the hearings, "in the abstract you worry about if you go down this road how much does having to come before Washington and justify every action ... how much does that change your culture" and reduce innovation.

Particularly in the high-tech field, Schulz argued, aggressive oversight by Congress or the Department of Justice can have a chilling effect.

"That would be where I think Lee is not taking that into account. He's worried, and I think genuinely worried, about the dominance that Google has" without realizing the effect hearings like the one Wednesday can have, Schulz argued.

But Lee spokesman Brian Phillips said, "Just the contrary, he's worried that now that he was disappointed in testimony, that DOJ and others in Congress who are not open to self-correcting action are going to do something.

"He would much, much more prefer to not get into federal regulation or have law enforcement get involved," Phillips said. He explained that while "his personal philosophy is that less federal regulation is better," as the top Republican on the Antitrust panel, "he [had] an obligation to take those concerns seriously" when businesses complained about Google's practices.

According to Phillips, Lee's aggressiveness during the hearing was designed to try to prod Google's top executive into acknowledging the concerns and demonstrate the company is taking steps to ensure fair competition is occurring.

"Everyone wanted to hear Eric Schmidt say, 'Yes, we understand that we have a monopoly on Internet search ... and here are the things we are doing to make people comfortable' with that reality," Phillips said. "Unfortunately, he didn't hear that today."

Phillips also roundly rejected the notion that his and his top aide's previous relationship with had any bearing on the lawmaker's aggressive grilling of Schmidt.

He noted that, in the case of Stokes, he lobbied for the company "completely unrelated to the issues related to the hearing today" and that the company did not come up in internal office preparations for the hearing.

Likewise, Phillips acknowledged that while Lee worked as an attorney for the retailer, "he did work on cases for them ... on unrelated issues."

Those relationships "certainly wouldn't have played a role in the hearing. ... This is really just about trying to head off any federal regulation rather than the opposite," Phillips said.

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