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Trump signals U.S. government ‘should be suing Google and Facebook’

President Trump speaks before signing an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. government “should be suing Google and Facebook and all that,” then wagered that “perhaps we will,” in a new broadside against Silicon Valley at a moment when it already faces heightened antitrust scrutiny in Washington.

Trump did not detail the exact basis for such lawsuits, which he raised after assailing European regulators for their investigations into U.S. tech companies. But the president’s comments during an interview on Fox Business came just weeks after federal competition regulators at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission divvied up scrutiny of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, a move that could suggest the government is in the early stages of an investigation into those tech giants.

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In doing so, Trump also swiped at Google, claiming the search and advertising giant is “trying to rig the election.” He then claimed that Twitter has made it “very hard” for users to find and follow him. But Trump did not provide new evidence for his latest allegation that the companies exhibit bias against conservatives, which Google and Twitter long have vehemently denied.

“You may need legislation in order to create competition,” Trump said in response to a question about how his administration might proceed.

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In response, Google spokeswoman Julie Tarallo said the company seeks “to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without any regard for political viewpoint.” Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Twitter declined to comment. The White House declined to elaborate on Trump’s remarks.

Trump’s attacks Wednesday only add to Silicon Valley’s mounting political headaches in Washington, where even bitterly divided Democrats and Republicans have sounded similar alarms about the growing size and power of big tech companies. The bipartisan frustrations could be on full display later Wednesday, when Democratic candidates for president appear at the party’s first-ever 2020 election debate. Many top candidates have expressed support for investigating big tech on antitrust grounds.

Such investigations at the DOJ and FTC are supposed to be independent of political influence from the White House. Even Trump’s reference to lawsuits could provoke the ire of congressional Democrats, who repeatedly have criticized the president out of concern he’s interfered in past competition-related matters such as AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner Cable, a deal that included CNN.

Meanwhile, Trump repeatedly has attacked Facebook, Twitter and other social-media sites, claiming that they exhibit bias against conservatives. In May, the White House took the unprecedented step of calling for a public survey to report personal stories about people who say they have been unfairly censored online for their political views, a move that drew sharp criticism from open government and free speech advocates.

This time, Trump’s comments came in response to a video posted online by Project Veritas, an organization founded by James O’Keefe that targets reporters and people it deems to be left-leaning. The video purported to show Google employees discussing politics in a way that suggested they specifically targeted conservatives. But the clip had been recorded in secret, without the Google executive’s permission or knowledge, and she later said that Project Veritas had edited the video in a duplicitous way.

Earlier this year, Trump had pressed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about allegations of bias at a private White House meeting. Twitter long has maintained that Trump, who has more than 61 million followers, experiences fluctuations in his follower count because of the company’s effort to find and remove spam accounts.

Following Trump’s comments Wednesday, the White House announced it planned to convene “digital leaders” for a meeting on July 11, which spokesman Judd Deere described as a “robust conversation on the opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.” The White House did not elaborate on who it planned to invite.