Tech

Jeff Bezos open to testifying before House antitrust panel

Key Points
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is willing to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the company's competitive practices, according to a letter sent Sunday to the committee and later obtained by CNBC. 
  • Last month, Amazon resisted demands for Bezos to appear before the committee, saying it would "make the appropriate executive available" for testimony.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Alex Wong | Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is willing to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the company's competitive practices, according to a letter sent to the committee on Sunday and later obtained by CNBC.

In the letter, which was first reported by The New York Times, Amazon said it was "committed to cooperating" with the committee's inquiry, including making Bezos "available to testify at a hearing" with other tech CEOs later this summer. Robert K. Kelner, an attorney from Covington & Burling, the law firm representing Amazon in the antitrust matter, sent the letter to the committee. 

"Of course, we will need to resolve a number of questions regarding timing, format and outstanding document production issues, all necessarily framed by the extraordinary demands of the global pandemic," the letter states. "In addition, we think it bears emphasizing that other senior executives now run the businesses that are the actual subject of the Committee's investigation." 

Amazon confirmed that it would make Jeff Bezos available to testify at a hearing with other CEOs this summer. Kelner didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. 

In the letter, Kelner expressed concerns about the scope of the committee's questions, which he said "sought detailed information on an extraordinarily wide range of complex topics." Amazon has also raised concerns about the committee protecting documents with confidential information about its business, Kelner added. 

"The testimony of CEOs and the production of internal documents is essential to complete this bipartisan investigation into the state of competition in the digital marketplace," House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline said in a statement. "The Antitrust Subcommittee will continue to use the tools at our disposal to ensure we gather whatever information is necessary for our work."

Cicilline is leading an investigation into Amazon and its tech peers that will culminate in a report about the health of competition in digital markets. 

Last month, Amazon resisted demands for Bezos to appear before the committee, saying it would "make the appropriate executive available" for testimony. The committee in May called for Bezos to testify after Democratic leaders said they suspected Amazon of lying to Congress.

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

Top Democrats on the committee 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 Journal investigation found Amazon employees used non-aggregated 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. 

Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are the only two CEOs of the five biggest tech firms by market cap — Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet and Facebook — who have never before testified in front of Congress. Amazon has faced scrutiny over the past year as lawmakers and regulators assess issues of privacy and dominance among tech companies.

Read the full story in The New York Times.

— CNBC's Lauren Feiner contributed to this report.

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House Judiciary panel asks Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to testify