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Amazon declines to commit to Jeff Bezos testimony in Congress

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on October 02, 2019.

Elif Ozturk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Amazon said Friday it will “make the appropriate executive available” to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the company’s competitive practices, but stopped short of making its CEO Jeff Bezos available like committee members requested. 

Earlier this month, the committee compelled Bezos to testify after Democratic leaders said they suspected Amazon of lying to Congress. Top Democrats on the commitee said they suspected Amazon of lying to Congress over its private label strategy, after a recent Wall Street Journal report on the company’s use of third-party seller data appeared to contradict an Amazon executive’s previous testimony on its treatment of sellers. 

The committee also threatened to subpoena Bezos if he didn’t comply. 

In a response to the committee on Friday, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, said the company appreciates the opportunity to “address the issues” raised in the committee’s letter. But Amazon’s response doesn’t state it will make Bezos available for testimony.

“We disagree strongly with any suggestion that we have attempted to mislead the Committee or not been cooperative with the investigation,” Huseman said. “While our teams remain heads down around the clock focused on protecting the health and safety of our employees while continuing to serve customers during the global pandemic, we remain prepared to make the appropriate Amazon executive available to the Committee to address these important issues.”

When asked whether Amazon will send Bezos to testify, an Amazon spokesperson referred back to Huseman’s letter.

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Bezos is the only CEO of the big four tech firms — Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook — who has never before testified in front of Congress. The company has faced scrutiny over the past year as lawmakers and regulators assess issues of privacy and dominance among tech companies.

The House Antitrust Subcommittee is currently probing Amazon and three of its peers on antitrust grounds. Amazon also faces a probe by the Federal Trade Commission, according to Bloomberg.

The Journal investigation found Amazon employees used nonaggregated or easily identifiable data from third-party sellers to figure out which products to make on its own. The report was based on interviews with more than 20 former Amazon employees and documents reviewed by the Journal. 

The report appeared to contradict testimony by Amazon’s associate general counsel Nate Sutton at a July hearing, during which he denied that individual seller data is used to manipulate search algorithms to favor Amazon’s own products, or in any other way to directly compete with merchants. 

Amazon said it has been “working with the committee in good faith” for almost a year to provide information on its seller practices, as well as to answer the committee’s questions about the report from the Journal. The company has also initiated its own investigation into the findings from the Journal and said it will share the results of its probe with the committee. 

House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., who was one of the signatories of the letter sent to Amazon, reiterated the committee’s position that they’d subpoena Bezos to appear if he chose not to.

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“No one is above the law, no matter how rich or powerful,” Cicilline said in a statement. “We have asked Mr. Bezos to testify before the U.S. Congress about Amazon’s troubling business practices and false statements, and we expect him to do so. Whether he does so voluntarily or by subpoena is his choice.”

— CNBC’s Lauren Feiner contributed to this report. 

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