WASHINGTON — When numerous state attorneys general gathered last month on the steps of the Supreme Court to announce an antitrust investigation into Google, one was conspicuously absent: Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general.
He was also missing from a list of state attorneys general publicly signing on to a joint antitrust investigation into Facebook, released last week by New York.
Mr. Becerra’s curious no-show from the public announcements has provided one of the more enduring questions about the scrutiny of the tech industry sweeping through Washington and state capitals. What is Mr. Becerra — whose state is home to most of the country’s biggest tech companies, including Google and Facebook — up to?
His decision to skirt the question has led to questions about what one of the largest and most influential states is doing on the tech antitrust front. Mr. Becerra’s office has more resources — money and people — than most state attorneys general, which would be needed to pursue a major legal case against one of the top tech companies.
It has led to criticism from political rivals and groups calling for aggressive action against the giant tech companies, as well as attention from local news organizations. Yet Mr. Becerra, who has been vocal about problems with Silicon Valley in the past, has remained fastidious about saying little about any potential investigations. He has neither confirmed nor denied that his office is examining Google, Facebook or any other tech company.
“No one except California and the A.G.’s office knows what, if anything, we’re doing with regard to either of those two or any other company in the internet space,” he said in an interview this week. He added that he was following his office’s longstanding practice not to speak publicly about a possible investigation.
Earlier this month, Mr. Becerra responded to a question about California not publicly endorsing the joint investigations by asking one of his own.
“How do you know we’re not investigating?” he said.
Mr. Becerra’s spokeswoman, Sarah Lovenheim, said the office did not disclose what it was or was not investigating to protect the integrity of its work. “It’s just our policy not to comment on any pending or potential investigations,” she said in a statement.
Other attorneys general offices are not offering any insight, either. Fabien Levy, a spokesman for Letitia James, the New York attorney general, said that her office “cannot comment on whether we have or have not had a conversation with another state about any of our investigations.”