U.S. attorney general recuses self from T-Mobile, Sprint merger probe

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks at a news conference to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General William Barr has recused himself from the Justice Department’s deliberations on whether to allow T-Mobile to proceed with its $26 billion acquisition of Sprint, according to a source familiar with the decision.

The department’s Antitrust Division, headed by Makan Delrahim, is reviewing the deal to determine if it will lead to higher prices for consumers or to slower innovation, as critics allege. The Federal Communications Commission also must approve the transaction for it to go forward.

The recusal was first reported by the New York Post.

In a filing with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in December, Barr acknowledged owning a T-Mobile bond valued at $15,001 to $50,000 and two other T-Mobile bonds and a Sprint bond valued at less than $1,001. Those are to be sold within 90 days of his confirmation, which occurred on Feb. 14.

Barr had also recused himself from considering AT&T’s plan to buy Time Warner, which the government opposed, because of his involvement with those companies. That deal has closed.

T-Mobile announced on Monday that the companies were extending a deadline to complete their deal to July 29. The two are among just four national wireless carriers, trailing Verizon Communications and AT&T.

Regulators are expected to make a decision on the deal in early June. They will be weighing a potential loss of competition, and subsequently higher prices for consumers, against the prospect of a more powerful No. 3 wireless carrier which can work to build a faster, better 5G next generation wireless network.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Phil Berlowitz