Earlier this year, a leaked email written by Murillo the day after the 2016 presidential election revealed how her team at Google allegedly worked to boost Latino voter turnout in “key states,” such as Florida and Nevada, in an apparent attempt to help Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton win the election.
The leak raised additional questions about Google’s alleged bias against conservatives, which Pichai repeatedly denied in Tuesday’s hearing.
Rep. Jordan read excerpts from the email while questioning Pichai.
He said, “Recapping her work in the 2016 election with the Latino vote, she [Murillo] said this: ‘We pushed to get out the Latino vote with our features.’”
“A few lines down in her email, she qualified that sentence, and she said, ‘We pushed to get out the Latino vote with our features in key states,’ and she specifically cites the states Florida and Nevada,” said Jordan.
“Near the end of her email, in a similar sentence, she says, ‘We supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to the polls in key states,’” stated the congressman.
“Is it fair to say the ‘we’ in both sentences, Mr. Pichai, refers to Google?” said Jordan.
Pichai did not answer the question directly and was quickly interrupted by Rep. Jordan, who forced him to answer it. Pichai then denied that the “we” referred to Google.
Pichai: “Congressman, we, we, we are very concerned whenever allegations like that – we, we, our team looked—"
Jordan: “I’m not asking you that question. I’m asking you, is it fair to say the ‘we’ in both sentences refers to the company Google?”
Pichai: “As Google, we wouldn’t participate in any partisan efforts around any civic process, so, you know, I don’t think so.”
Rep. Jordan moved on, asking Pichai to simply confirm the facts of two statements in the email:
“Okay. So, this is – so, ‘we’ pushed, and ‘we supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to the polls in key states’ and ‘we pushed to get out the Latino vote’ during the 2016 election.
“And how were they getting that done? They were getting that done by, according to Ms. Murillo, your head of multicultural marketing, by altering your features, or configuring your features in such a way, and for paying for rides for people to get to the polls.
“Is that, that fair to say what those sentences are talking about?”
Pichai again tried to evade Jordan’s question, saying, “I’m not aware of all the specifics, but we did look into it. We found no evidence that, you know, there were any activity like that from Google, towards the organization.”
“So, she’s not telling the truth?” Rep. Jordan pressed. Pichai dodged again.
Rep. Jordan continued his line of questioning, pointing out that while he was actually fine with Google encouraging people to participate in elections, the company’s decision to focus only on “key states” was problematic.
“She [Murillo] said she paid for rides to the polls, and they configured their features in such a way as to get out the Latino vote,” said the congressman. “And, look, look, I actually think that’s all okay. Right? I think that’s just a good corporate citizen encouraging voter participation and encouraging people to participate in our election process.
He continued, “I think, so far, those sentences are just fine, but then there’s three words at the end of each sentence that do cause me real concern, and those three words are:
“‘We push to get out the Latino vote with our features in key states.’
“Now, suddenly, it gets political.
“‘We supported partners like Voto Latino to pay for rides to the polls in key states.’
“Now, that makes everything different.
“So, I got, really, just one question for you – why? Why did Google configure its features and pay for rides to the polls to get out the Latino vote only in key states?”
Pichai attempted to dodge again, but Rep. Jordan cut him off and continued to press for real answers to his questions. Below is a transcript of the rest of their exchange:
Pichai: “Congressman, necessarily, we found no evidence to substantiate those claims. The only effort we do around elections—”
Rep. Jordan: “So, your head of multicultural marketing, who, you praised her work in this email – gave her a shout-out – was lying when she said you were trying to get out the Latino vote in key states?”
Pichai: “We, today, in the U.S., around elections, we make it – and this is what users look to us for – where to register to vote, where to find your nearest polling place, what are the hours they are open – and we do, we do those things effectively—”
Rep. Jordan: “That’s not what I’m asking. I appreciate that, Mr. Pichai, and I already said that’s just, that’s being a good corporate citizen. What I’m asking is, why did you only do it in key states?”
Pichai: “We didn’t do any such activity, as Google, on any of these key states. I mean, there are employees – I think they are parts—”
Rep. Jordan: “Did, did you push to get out the Latino vote in all states?”
Pichai: “As Google, we don’t have goals around pushing out to get any particular segment. We don’t participate in partisan activities. We engage with both campaigns, we support and sponsor debates across both sides of the aisle, and we provide users with information to get to election—”
Rep. Jordan: “Your head of multicultural marketing said you were pushing to get out the Latino vote, paying for a ride to, to the polls, for the Latino vote, only in key states, and you’re saying that’s not accurate.”
Pichai: “Yes, that’s right. We haven’t found any evidence to substantiate any of—”
Rep. Jordan: “So, she just made it up out of thin air, the day after the election, and wrote this email to your top executives, and it’s not true?”
Pichai: “Congressman, I’m happy to follow up, but I think she – the employees today do their own activities—”
Rep. Jordan: “I don’t want the follow-up. I want the real answers right here, in this committee.”