FTC hires outside attorney in Google antitrust case

The move suggests the FTC might sue the company

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has hired an outside litigator to lead its antitrust investigation of Google, a possible sign that the FTC is preparing to file a lawsuit against the search and advertising giant.

Beth Wilkinson, a partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, will begin handling the FTC's investigation of Google on Monday.

A spokesman for the FTC said the Commission had brought in outside attorneys before, but the last time was about four years ago.

"We had a chance to get one of the best litigators in the country and we took that opportunity," the spokesman said.

The FTC began investigating Google for possible antitrust violations in the middle of last year. It's been looking at whether the search giant unfairly favors its own businesses in search results, and whether it charges higher advertising rates for competitors.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz met with reporters Thursday in Washington, D.C. He emphasized that Wilkinson's hiring didn't necessarily mean the FTC was about to take Google to court, according to a New York Times report.

Google declined to comment.

Wilkinson specializes in white-collar crime. Most recently she has defended corporations, including Pfizer and Philip Morris, against government actions, but she was previously a prosecutor. Most notably, she made the closing arguments in the federal government's case against the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

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