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Trump’s criticism of Amazon looms over its Whole Foods deal

(L to R) Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon, Larry Page, chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google), Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, Vice President-elect Mike Pence listen as President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a meeting of technology executives at Trump Tower, December 14, 2016 in New York City.
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(L to R) Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon, Larry Page, chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google), Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, Vice President-elect Mike Pence listen as President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a meeting of technology executives at Trump Tower, December 14, 2016 in New York City.

Amazon's brazen bid to buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion will bring the e-commerce giant toe-to-toe with President Donald Trump, who once slammed the company as a threat to competition — and threatened it would have such "problems" under his watch.

On the surface, Amazon and Whole Foods are just at the beginning stage of a deal that is expected to take months to close: They will have to submit their merger to approval by government regulators, and either the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission will lead the investigation.

Looming over that customary antitrust review, however, are Trump's own comments. Sitting down with conservative commentator Sean Hannity in May 2016, Trump explicitly challenged Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in large part because of his ownership of the Washington Post.

"He thinks I'll go after him for antitrust," Trump said at the time. "Because he's got a huge antitrust problem because he's controlling so much, Amazon is controlling so much of what they are doing."

Trump continued: "He's using the Washington Post, which is peanuts, he's using that for political purposes to save Amazon in terms of taxes and in terms of antitrust."

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In December 2015, Trump essentially called Bezos's ownership of the Post a tax-dodging scheme for his "no-profit company, Amazon." (The Post is owned by Bezos personally and is not part of Amazon.) Months later, at a campaign rally in Texas, the president issued his most direct threat to the e-commerce titan. "Believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems, they are going to have such problems," Trump said.

To be sure, Bezos and Trump have collaborated since the president's election. The Amazon leader joined his tech counterparts for a meeting at Trump Tower in December, and Bezos is expected to return to the White House for another, similar meeting on June 19.

Nor has Trump's campaign rhetoric plagued other companies that have proceeded with mergers during his administration. That includes AT&T, which Trump as a candidate blasted for its bid to buy Time Warner. Even though Trump once threatened to block the deal, he has since tapped a well-regarded antitrust lawyer — who once said he didn't see much trouble with AT&T's plans — to lead the Justice Department's competition division.

By Tony Romm, Recode.net.

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