Congress Calls on Jeff Bezos of Amazon to Testify

By David McCabe

Lawmakers want to question Mr. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, as part of its antitrust investigation.

Jeff Bezos last year in Washington.
Jeff Bezos last year in Washington.Credit...Tom Brenner for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee on Friday called on Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, to testify before Congress, in a major escalation of its investigation into the country’s largest technology companies.

The testimony would allow lawmakers to question Mr. Bezos, the world’s richest person, about accusations that Amazon abuses it market power in online retail, mistreats warehouse workers and hurts small businesses.

The panel’s antitrust subcommittee has for months been investigating the power of Amazon, along with that of Facebook, Google and Apple. Last year, lawmakers requested a slew of internal documents from the companies, including emails between top executives.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by the Democratic chairman of the committee, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, threatened to use the panel’s power to legally compel Mr. Bezos to testify if he did not do so willingly, a serious step in any congressional investigation.

“Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis, we reserve the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary,” the lawmakers wrote to Mr. Bezos.

An Amazon spokeswoman did not immediately offer a comment on the committee’s demands.

Mr. Bezos has traditionally relied on his deputies, like Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary, to interact with policymakers. But he has made moves in recent years toward becoming a greater presence in Washington.

He bought the Washington Post in 2013, and keeps a sprawling home in the city’s upscale Kalorama neighborhood. Earlier this year, he hosted an after-party for the annual Alfalfa Club dinner at his mansion, drawing business and political leaders.

The decision to call Mr. Bezos to testify comes after an article in The Wall Street Journal detailed how Amazon employees had used data from third-party sellers to hone its private label offerings, potentially contradicting testimony given by an Amazon lawyer to the committee last year.

The lawmakers said in their letter that if the “article is accurate, then statements Amazon made to the Committee about the company’s business practices appear to be misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious.”

Amazon executives have said that they did not believe the allegations in the article were accurate, but the company announced an internal investigation into the issues.

So far, the antitrust investigations have been largely a bipartisan affair. But there are signs that is changing. A few Republicans on the committee signed the letter, though Representative Jim Jordan, the Ohio lawmaker who just took over as the panel’s top Republican, did not.

Russell Dye, a spokesman for the committee’s Republicans, said, “our members have questions for Amazon and want to get answers for the American people,” but “we wonder what Judiciary Democrats’ true motivations are.”

Mr. Dye said that earlier this year, Democrats said that “companies like Amazon should not exist and should be broken up simply because they are large successful businesses.”

The public has increasingly turned to Amazon’s online store during the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of homebound Americans have used the company’s delivery service to order food and other essential items, pushing its network of warehouses to its limits. From his Texas ranch, Mr. Bezos has spent the majority of his time managing the company’s response to the virus.

But Amazon’s critics have seized on this moment, as well. This growing coalition of workers, activists and lawmakers say the company has not done enough to protect its front-line workers, calling on the company to offer hazard pay and to better communicate with warehouse staff.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.