Amazon turns to Covington, Williams & Connolly to fight FTC chair

Small toy figures are seen in front of diplayed Amazon logo, March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

  • Former DOJ antitrust leaders are on Amazon team pressing FTC Chair Lina Khan to recuse
  • New work extends services Covington, Williams & Connolly have provided to Amazon

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(Reuters) – Top lawyers from Washington, D.C.-based law firms Covington & Burling and Williams & Connolly on Wednesday pressed a joint effort for client Inc seeking the recusal of newly appointed Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan in matters involving the technology company.

Amazon’s petition at the FTC questioned whether Khan, a leading progressive voice on the need to ramp up antitrust enforcement, can remain impartial as she oversees investigations and enforcement actions that might target the company. Keeping an open mind “would require her to repudiate the years of writings and statements that are at the foundation of her professional career,” Amazon’s lawyers said.

The Covington team advising Amazon includes Thomas Barnett, co-chairman of the firm’s antitrust and competition law practice, and antitrust partner Kate Mitchell-Tombras. Williams & Connolly partner Heidi Hubbard is working with partner Kevin Hodges, who served as managing partner of the firm from 2014 to 2018.

Barnett returned to Covington in 2009 from the U.S. Justice Department, where he had served as the assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division. He began his legal career at the firm. Mitchell-Tombras was a DOJ antitrust trial lawyer from 2010 to 2014.

The lawyers at Covington did not return a message seeking comment about Amazon’s petition. Hubbard declined to comment, as did the FTC.

Both law firms are building on their existing relationships with Amazon.

Covington partner Robert Kelner, chairman of the firm’s election and political law practice, was a lead attorney advising Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos in advance of the U.S. House congressional inquiry in July 2020 concerning antitrust law. Lawyers at Covington have lobbied for Amazon on tax and other matters.

Williams & Connolly partner Jonathan Pitt, co-chairman of the firm’s antitrust practice, is counsel to Amazon in a pending case in New York federal district court accusing the company of anticompetitive conduct in the market for electronic books.

Amazon relies broadly on a stable of major firms for litigation and other work in Washington.

Morrison & Foerster and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher represent Amazon in its Washington court challenge over a $10 billion cloud-computing U.S. government contract. Lawyers from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison are defending Amazon in the antitrust case the D.C. attorney general filed in May.

The firms King & Spalding; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; McGuireWoods Consulting; Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck; and Holland & Knight have lobbied for Amazon or affiliated companies, U.S. disclosures show.

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Mike Scarcella