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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Broad U.S. antitrust action against Big Tech moved firmly from the speculative realm to the investigative mode in the last 72 hours, as both Congress and regulatory agencies appeared to be moving forward with inquiries.

The big picture: While the pressure on the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple has been mounting for years, the one-two punch of a public Congressional investigation into their dominance and possible antitrust probes by regulators marks a major escalation in tensions.

  • Last year saw high-profile testimony by CEOs like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, but the action will now shift to more mundane yet substantial document and evidence gathering that would form the basis of court cases or settlements.

Driving the news: The House Judiciary Committee said Monday that it was launching a bipartisan investigation into whether big tech platforms are engaged in monopolistic practices.

  • A person familiar with the investigation said that, in addition to public hearings, the inquiry would include requesting documents from a wide range of companies.
  • That could allow the committee to receive information from small competitors of the tech giants who would otherwise be wary of testifying publicly, the person said.
  • "Given the growing tide of concentration and consolidation across our economy, it is vital that we investigate the current state of competition in digital markets and the health of the antitrust laws," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the committee's chairman.
  • Tech stocks fell in Monday trading as the federal interest in the companies came into focus.

Between the lines: The investigation could help lawmakers develop a factual record to shape legislation overhauling the nation's antitrust laws, which reformers say are inadequate for reining in corporate power as it exists today.

The announcement followed reporting over the weekend and into Monday that the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission had split up the field of investigations into anti-competitive behavior by tech giants.

Why it matters: Of the many ways critics want to address concerns about Big Tech, antitrust action has always been among the most significant — although it was largely seen as the least likely route.

  • It could result in action as serious as the firms being broken up, but even if it doesn't, it could seriously distract the platforms' efforts to grow their main businesses and anticipate new waves of tech innovation. Microsoft learned this lesson the hard way after its antitrust fight with Washington two decades ago.

What we're watching: Congressional hearings on the issue will unfold in the coming months, and signs that DOJ and FTC are moving forward with formal investigations into the tech giants could leak out in the form of official inquiries sent to the companies or their competitors.

Our thought bubble: Once inquiries like this get started, they develop their own momentum even as they proceed at what feels like a leaden pace to tech insiders. These companies likely face years of entanglement.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.

Senate Republicans block voting rights bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate floor on Jan. 18. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Republicans blocked Democrats' voting rights legislation from coming to a final vote on Wednesday in what was largely viewed as a doomed effort from the start.

Why it matters: The failed vote underscores the Democratic Party's current uphill battle to pass sweeping legislation in a 50-50 Senate.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Biden says Russia likely to invade Ukraine

President Biden addressed the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine during a press briefing Wednesday, saying of Russian President Vladimir Putin, "my guess is he will move in."

Why it matters: U.S. officials have issued a series of warnings about Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying in Kyiv earlier Wednesday that Russia could invade "on very short notice."