Congress Calls on Jeff Bezos of Amazon to Testify

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee on Friday referred to as on Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief govt, to testify earlier than Congress, in a significant escalation of its investigation into the nation’s largest expertise corporations.

Mr. Bezos, the world’s richest particular person, is the highest-profile govt referred to as to testify as half of the antitrust investigation. A listening to would permit lawmakers to query him about accusations that Amazon abuses it market energy in on-line retail, mistreats warehouse staff and hurts small companies.

Many different tech leaders, together with Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sundar Pichai of Google, have appeared earlier than Congress lately, answering questions beneath oath on points like privateness and the unfold of disinformation. Mr. Bezos has not but endured the identical highlight.

The Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee has for months been investigating the facility of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple. Last 12 months, lawmakers requested a slew of inner paperwork from the businesses, together with emails between prime executives. The transfer on Friday, written in a letter to Mr. Bezos, is an indication that the inquiry has not stopped as a result of of the coronavirus pandemic.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by the Democratic chairman of the committee, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, threatened to use its energy to legally compel Mr. Bezos to testify if he didn’t achieve this willingly, a severe step in any congressional investigation.

“Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis, we reserve the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary,” the lawmakers wrote to Mr. Bezos.

Amazon didn’t remark on Friday on his plans.

Mr. Bezos has historically relied on his deputies, like Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary, to work together with policymakers. He has performed few in-depth interviews about Amazon lately. But he has made strikes towards turning into a higher presence in Washington.

He purchased The Washington Post in 2013, and retains a house within the metropolis’s upscale Kalorama neighborhood. He hosted an after-party for the annual Alfalfa Club dinner this 12 months at his mansion, drawing enterprise and political leaders.

President Trump has incessantly focused Mr. Bezos with criticism and tried to hyperlink Amazon to The Post when attacking the paper. (The publication is owned by Mr. Bezos personally and has no company relationship with Amazon.)

In the autumn, the Pentagon awarded a $10 billion cloud computing contract to Microsoft over Amazon’s rival bid; Amazon has sued, saying Mr. Trump’s antagonism was an element.

In current months, the lawmakers talked to Amazon about summoning Mr. Bezos to Capitol Hill, in accordance to two individuals accustomed to the discussions, who would communicate solely anonymously as a result of the talks have been personal. But Amazon has resisted the efforts, the individuals stated.

Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, said in a statement that “we strictly prohibit employees from using nonpublic, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch.”

“While we don’t believe these claims made by The Wall Street Journal are accurate,” Mr. Herdener added, “we take these allegations very seriously and have launched an internal investigation.”

So far, the antitrust investigations have been largely a bipartisan affair. But there are signs that is changing. A few Republicans on the committee signed the letter, though Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who just took over as the panel’s top Republican, did not.

Russell Dye, a spokesman for the committee’s Republicans, said that “our members have questions for Amazon and want to get answers for the American people,” but that “we wonder what Judiciary Democrats’ true motivations are.”

Mr. Dye said Democrats had argued this year that “companies like Amazon should not exist and should be broken up simply because they are large successful businesses.”

At a fund-raiser this year, Mr. Nadler made comments about breaking big companies, drawing condemnation from Republicans on the committee, who complained the remarks suggested that the investigation had a predetermined outcome. Several prominent liberals, including Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have criticized the company’s power and reach, including during their presidential campaigns.

It is not clear exactly when Mr. Bezos would appear, as Congress has curtailed its usual business during the pandemic.

The public has increasingly turned to Amazon’s online store during the pandemic. Millions of homebound Americans have used the company’s delivery service to order food and other essential items, pushing its network of warehouses to its limits. From his Texas ranch, Mr. Bezos has spent most of his time managing the company’s response to the virus.

But Amazon’s critics have seized on this moment as well. This growing coalition of workers, activists and lawmakers says the company has not done enough to protect its front-line workers, calling on the company to offer hazard pay and to better communicate with warehouse staff.

In the financial report on Thursday, Mr. Bezos said the company planned to spend $4 billion or more in the next quarter “on Covid-related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe.” He said those costs could mean that the company would have no profit.

Some of the company’s critics applauded the lawmakers’ move on Friday.

“Amazon often acts as though it’s above the law,” Stacy Mitchell, a co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a longtime critic of the company, said in a statement. “Today, the House Judiciary Committee firmly demonstrated that it’s not.”

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