FTC leader accuses Jim Jordan of intimidating her staff

Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan on Monday accused Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and his Judiciary Committee staff of ethical breaches in a “campaign to intimidate and harass” the agency’s career staff after he threatened to subpoena a number of the rank-and-file attorneys.

The move raises the temperature in a heated dispute that threatens to detract from Khan’s aggressive antitrust and consumer protection enforcement plan.

Staff for Jordan, a Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told FTC staff on Tuesday they authorized subpoenas to depose four FTC employees supervising merger enforcement, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The move follows a month of back and forth in which Jordan has sought interviews with 23 staffers.

Many of the FTC staff at issue “have decades of experience and diligently served both Republican and Democratic administrations,” Khan said in a letter to Jordan on Wednesday. “This effort seems designed to obstruct and chill the agency’s critical work and raises grave concerns.”

Russell Dye, a spokesperson for the House Judiciary Committee and Jordan, accused Khan of fearing congressional oversight.

“It’s clear that Chair Khan’s FTC is afraid of robust congressional oversight and answering for her radical policies and toxic work environment. The Committee’s oversight requests are no different than what we ask of other agencies under our jurisdiction — you have to wonder why Chair Khan is scared of transparency,” Dye said. “And the FTC is so unprofessional that we first learned about her inaccurate and misleading letter from the media rather than the agency itself.”

Jordan’s Judiciary Committee staff began emailing at least some of the 23 employees directly on Monday, requesting their appearances for transcribed interviews, according to Khan’s letter. “[Y]our Committee staff decided to initiate a targeted campaign of intimidation by directly contacting career employees who they knew to be represented by counsel, demanding they ‘contact the committee promptly to schedule your appearance’ without the benefit of existing legal counsel,” Khan wrote.

Khan, citing legal ethics rules that represented parties cannot be contacted directly, said those emails are a serious breach.

Furthermore, Khan said in her letter that Jordan’s Judiciary staff sought these interviews without providing a detailed explanation of why they are needed and have refused to identify what specific information they believe they would be able to obtain from the FTC employees. “The Committee has refused to identify this need and lay the proper foundation for these unprecedented requests,” Khan said.

Khan said the FTC offered the Judiciary Committee interviews with senior career supervisors first. That offer was refused, with Judiciary staff demanding interviews with mid-level staffers instead and threatening subpoenas if the agency didn’t comply.

“Despite our cooperation, the Committee has, without explanation, rejected our offer to begin transcribed interviews with the most senior career supervisors on the Committee’s list, who we explained would likely be in the best position to answer the broad, vague, and imprecise requests from the Committee,” Khan said.

More than half of the 23 staffers supervise merger enforcement at the agency. Others include staff in technology enforcement, the general counsel’s office and congressional relations.

The interviews are part of the Judiciary Committee’s oversight probe of the FTC. Jordan has said the probe could “inform potential legislative reforms.” The committee already questioned Khan, who testified for five hours earlier this month.

The heated back and forth over questioning career employees has caused some consternation among the staff at issue, who are “very worried and anxious,” according to a senior FTC official. “They already don’t have enough time to do the important substantive work on behalf of the American people, without getting roped into a fishing expedition and political witch hunt.”

Jordan, who also chairs the Judiciary’s Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee, sent a subpoena to Khan in April for documents related to the FTC’s ongoing probe into Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter and conduct that may have violated a May 2022 privacy settlement, where Twitter paid $150 million for misusing user data.

The Weaponization subcommittee released a report in March summarizing more than a dozen FTC letters sent to Musk in the months after he bought Twitter in October 2022. The report claims Khan has harassed Twitter, suggesting the FTC’s ongoing enforcement of the settlement is partisan. The FTC has strongly refuted those claims.

“I believe we have much we could cooperate on, from censorship by technology companies to protecting honest American manufacturers from losing business to firms who falsely claim their products are made in the U.S.A.,” Khan said. “But efforts to intimidate or harass career civil servants as a response to policy disagreements with senior leadership raises grave concerns.”

Rebecca Kern contributed to this report.

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