WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Makan Delrahim, who was chosen by President Donald Trump to be America’s top antitrust regulator, said on Wednesday that he would maintain the independence of the White House to enforce antitrust law.
The Senate has yet to vote to confirm Delrahim.
In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee overshadowed by the repercussions of Trump’s firing of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, Delrahim reiterated that he would recuse himself from a fight over whether health insurer Anthem can merge with its rival Cigna (NYSE :).
Delrahim had worked for Anthem as a lobbyist when he was at the Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck Law Firm, LLP.
The Obama Justice Department filed a lawsuit to stop the deal and the case is currently on appeal.
When asked what he would do if the White House wanted to discuss a deal that is considering the split, Delrahim said that antitrust enforcement is law enforcement.
“The independence of the decisions taken in the processing and review of mergers, as well as other conducts, is a serious one that must be free from any political influence,” he said. “They will be free if I am lucky enough to be confirmed.”
Delrahim currently works in the White House as a deputy assistant and deputy attorney to the president.
If confirmed as expected, Delrahim’s antitrust division would review corporate mergers at a time when many investors and corporate executives anticipate a more relaxed view of the deal.
Former President Barack Obama‘s administration faced a host of mega deals in what one executor called a “meltdown tsunami” and blocked many of them.
Antitrust experts who have followed Delrahim’s career hope that he will follow in the footsteps of a former chief, Hewitt Pate, who was deputy attorney general for antitrust from 2003 to 2005. Delrahim was an associate of Pate and specialized in international antitrust.
Under Pate, the division was criticized for allowing too many deals, but it sued to prevent US Airways from merging with United Airlines and blocked a deal to combine DirecTV and EchoStar. He tried, but couldn’t stop Oracle Corp (NYSE 🙂 from buying PeopleSoft.
If confirmed, Delrahim would oversee the Justice Department’s evaluation of AT & T’s (NYSE 🙂 Inc’s plan to buy Time Warner Inc (NYSE :), the owner of HBO, Warner Brothers and the CNN news network.
The department is reviewing important transactions in seeds and agrochemicals, such as the mergers of Dow Chemical (NYSE 🙂 Co and Dupont, and of Bayer (DE 🙂 and Monsanto (NYSE :). Those proposed deals, along with ChemChina’s purchase of Syngenta, would consolidate six agricultural chemical companies into three.
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