News site Axios reported that President Trump has discussed going after the retailer on antitrust or other competitive grounds, the latest sign of the president's hostility to the online retailer.
For more than two years, President Donald Trump has lashed out at Amazon, its founder Jeff Bezos, and the Bezos-owned Washington Post.
On Wednesday, shares of the largest U.S. online retailer tumbled after a report that Trump might be looking for ways to turn his threats into action.
News site Axios, citing five unnamed sources who spoke with the president, reported that Trump has openly discussed going after Amazon using antitrust or tax laws.
Amazon shares slumped by as much as 7 percent after the report, before paring their losses. The stock closed Wednesday down 4.4 percent — the biggest drop in a month — at $1,431.42 a share.
The reported hostility from the White House comes as the Seattle company’s profile in the capital rises along with its growing array of businesses interests.
Amazon’s expanding D.C. operation last year lobbied more than two dozen federal entities, ranging from the Federal Communications Commission to NASA and the Department of Defense, and spent $12.8 million to influence policymakers — the second-biggest total among technology giants, behind only Google. Led by former Obama Administration press secretary Jay Carney, Amazon’s D.C. unit last year deployed 30 in-house lobbyists.
Trump’s ire for Amazon, and Bezos, is no secret.
The largest online retailer has been a favorite target of Trump since his campaign, with the president blasting the company on Twitter for paying what he says are unfairly low taxes, damaging other retailers, and allegedly getting a sweetheart deal from the U.S. Postal Service, among other complaints.
He has also accused Bezos of using The Washington Post, which Bezos owns separately from his interests in Amazon, as a tool to build political influence and damage him personally.
“If I become president, oh do they have problems,” Trump said at a campaign stop in 2016. “They’re going to have such problems.”
“He’s obsessed with Amazon,” one source told Axios. “Obsessed.”
It’s unclear what that obsession might translate to should Trump try to aim the powers of the executive branch at the company.
Asked about Wednesday’s report, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration wasn’t considering policy moves aimed at Amazon. “We have no announcements and no specific policies or actions that we’re currently pushing forward or considering taking,” she said.
Amazon declined to comment.
Trump’s previous suggestions of anti-competitive behavior by Amazon tapped into criticism from watchdogs and academics that the company, and fellow technology giants like Google and Facebook, could abuse their growing scale and reach.
But prevailing antitrust law in the U.S. focuses on harm to consumers, not raw market power. By that measure, a potential case against Amazon, with its reputation for lowering prices in markets it enters, is less likely.
The Federal Trade Commission quickly gave its blessing to Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market, an indication that the company was far from triggering serious antitrust concerns.
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“I’m deeply skeptical that a plaintiff could prove anti-competitive behavior” by Amazon under current law, based on what’s publicly known about the company, said A. Douglas Melamed, a professor at Stanford Law School and a former Justice Department antitrust official.
“Bottom line, show me the beef,” he added. “If you have any specific wrongdoing you’re alleging about Amazon, show that.”
The president’s critiques also echo criticism of Amazon’s tax practices. The company for years sought to avoid sales taxes charged by brick-and-mortar competitors, relying on a Supreme Court ruling that exempted from taxes any mail-order sellers and internet businesses that had no physical presence in a jurisdiction.
Trump’s bluster directed at Amazon doesn’t appear to have filtered to cabinet officials, some of whom seem to maintain a cordial public relationship with the retailer. Amazon in the last year has hosted Defense Secretary James Mattis and Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon at its Seattle headquarters.
“This is something we have never seen,” Suresh Kotha, a professor of management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, said of Trump’s reported comments. “With this president, we don’t know what he’s going to say or do.”