By Rob Copeland
LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. -- The top U.S. prosecutor investigating tech giants like Facebook Inc. and Google made clear Tuesday that no measure is out of his reach.
Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department's growing antitrust division, raised the spectre of breaking up big Silicon Valley names, calling such an action "perfectly on the table." That is a chilling prospect for the largest companies, which haven't faced such a threat since the government sought a breakup of Microsoft Corp. two decades ago.
Speaking at the WSJ Tech Live summit, Mr. Delrahim laid out what has to be considered the worst-case scenario for Silicon Valley as the Justice Department's antitrust review, unveiled over the summer, takes shape. He said the technology revolution has brought improvements for consumers, but that questions remain about potential anticompetitive behavior.
"There's no question consumers have benefited from technology. There's no question we have a lot more conveniences at our disposal. The big question is: Are companies abusing the market power that they have gained," Mr. Delrahim said.
He summed up his operating philosophy with a quip a few moments later. "Big is not bad," he said. "Big behaving badly is bad."
Mr. Delrahim didn't discuss the department's examination of specific companies. The Wall Street Journal has reported that his boss, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, is pushing a broad antitrust review looking at Facebook, Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Amazon.com Inc., and Apple Inc.
Those companies, already among the biggest lobbying and public-relations forces in Washington, D.C., are expanding their operations there in expectation of a yearslong fight.
Mr. Delrahim, too, said he is adding to the talents of his team. He has assigned four attorneys and two staff economists to train in artificial intelligence and machine learning to better understand the work that technology companies do.
One thing Mr. Delrahim won't do, he said, is be swayed politics, particularly the Trump administration's posture toward China. Mr. Delrahim said it is outside of his purview to wonder whether a breakup of some of America's more powerful companies would allow China to pick up ground.
"Considerations of national champions is inappropriate," he said.
Write to Rob Copeland at firstname.lastname@example.org