Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) on Tuesday participated in his first confirmation hearing of President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, where he pressed him on how the Justice Department might respond to violations by companies like Facebook and Google.
Hawley, the freshman senator who unseated former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) in November, focused on anti-trust laws and internet privacy during his first official hearing as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Recent media reports have indicated that Facebook, in fact, routinely has shared user information without users' consent or even knowledge. Now the Justice Department has the authority to enforce the terms of the 2011 consent decree and potentially to prosecute any violation. Will you consider doing so?" Hawley asked.
Barr responded by saying he would rather not make any public comments on the issue in case he's confirmed and has to supervise the issue.
Hawley followed up by saying that these same companies control the flow of information to an unprecedented degree and they have leveraged their "market power" or even "monopoly" to disfavor conservative and libertarian viewpoints.
"Do you think the Department of Justice has authority under the antitrust laws or consumer protection laws or other laws to address bias by dominant online platforms?" Hawley asked.
"I would just say generally, you know, I wouldn't think it would — I'd have to think long and hard before I said that it was really the stuff of an antitrust matter," Barr said. "On the other hand, it could involve issues of disclosure and implicate other laws like that."
Hawley asked Barr whether he believes political bias could ever require a response on the behalf of the Justice Department.
"I'd have to think about that. I'm not sure. I'd like to know more about the phenomenon and what laws could be implicated by it," Barr said.