Christine Wilson, Only Republican FTC Commissioner, Will Resign

WASHINGTON — Christine Wilson, the sole Republican commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, said on Tuesday that she would soon resign and criticized Lina Khan, the Democratic chair of the agency, accusing her of an “abuse of power.”

Ms. Wilson, who announced her decision in an opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal, has been a consistent critic of Ms. Khan’s leadership. Ms. Khan, who became chair of the F.T.C. in June 2021, immediately set out to aggressively transform the agency into a bulwark against tech mergers and monopolies and a more powerful regulator of online privacy.

Ms. Wilson and another former Republican member of the F.T.C., Noah Phillips, who resigned in October, have repeatedly expressed concerns that Ms. Khan’s ambitions exceeded the legal authority of the agency, which enforces consumer protection and competition laws.

In particular, Ms. Wilson criticized a lawsuit that the F.T.C. filed in July to block Meta’s merger with a virtual reality app maker, Within, as well as a decision last month to ban “noncompete” clauses in employment contracts that limit the options of employees while locking in the power of companies to retain workers.

Ms. Wilson is a longtime antitrust lawyer, and was nominated to the F.T.C. by President Donald J. Trump in 2018. The F.T.C. has five commissioners.

“My fundamental concern with her leadership of the commission pertains to her willful disregard of congressionally imposed limits on agency jurisdiction, her defiance of legal precedent and her abuse of power to achieve desired outcomes,” Ms. Wilson wrote of Ms. Khan.

Ms. Khan said in a joint statement with two Democratic F.T.C. commissioners, Rebecca Slaughter and Alvaro Bedoya, “While we often disagreed with Commissioner Wilson, we respect her devotion to her beliefs and are grateful for her public service.”

Ms. Wilson’s departure is expected to put greater political pressure on the agency, which Republican lawmakers and businesses have criticized for being too tough on companies. Congress controls the budgets of agencies and can threaten to curtail the F.T.C.’s powers via its power over funding. It can also call Ms. Khan to appear in public oversight hearings.

Ms. Khan has defended her actions, saying the agency’s permissive approach to mergers over decades had allowed companies like Google, Meta and Amazon to balloon in size and eat up competition. She has pushed the agency to take on riskier cases that it may not even win.

President Biden nominated Ms. Khan to lead the F.T.C. as part of a group of progressive antitrust reformers who included Tim Wu at the White House and Jonathan Kanter, the head of antitrust at the Justice Department. Ms. Khan is overseeing lawsuits against Meta and a suit to block Microsoft’s merger with Activision.

Ms. Khan, 33, rose to fame in 2017 when she published a paper in the Yale Law Journal about Amazon, questioning decades-long views about illegal monopolization and the ways that antitrust laws were being applied to tech companies. She continued gaining attention with her participation in a congressional report in 2020 that called for the breakup for tech monopolies.

Ms. Wilson and companies like Meta and Amazon have called for Ms. Khan to recuse herself from investigations and cases involving them. They said that given Ms. Khan’s early opinions about the companies, she could not fairly evaluate cases involving them. Ms. Khan has not removed herself from cases involving Meta and other tech companies.

Ms. Wilson did not announce a date for her departure.

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