Delrahim to be nominated to head U.S. Justice Department's Antitrust Division

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A member of President Donald Trump’s transition team, Makan Delrahim, will be nominated to head the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, the White House said on Monday.

Delrahim is expected to move to the Justice Department after finishing up in the White House counsel’s office, where he has worked to steer Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch through the Senate confirmation process.

The Senate must vote to confirm Delrahim once the nomination is formalized.

As the proposed chief of the Antitrust Division, Delrahim would review corporate mergers at a time when many investors and corporate executives are anticipating a more relaxed view of deal-making after years of tough oversight by the administration of former President Barack Obama.

Antitrust experts who have followed Delrahim’s career have said that when it comes to merger approvals he would follow in the footsteps of a former boss, Hewitt Pate, who was assistant attorney general of antitrust from 2003 to 2005. Delrahim was Pate’s deputy, specializing in international antitrust.

Under Pate, the division was criticized for allowing too many deals, but it sued to stop US Airways from merging with United Airlines and blocked a deal to combine DirecTV and EchoStar. It tried but failed to stop Oracle Corp from buying PeopleSoft.

“I know Makan Delrahim to be smart, energetic and expert in antitrust. He is certainly no pushover,” said Seth Bloom, a former general counsel of the Senate antitrust subcommittee who knew Delrahim when both worked on Capitol Hill.

Reuters first exclusively reported on March 17 that Delrahim was expected to be nominated to head the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

If confirmed, Delrahim would oversee the Justice Department’s assessment of AT&T’s Inc plan to buy Time Warner Inc, the owner of HBO, Warner Brothers and news network CNN.

The department is reviewing a number of major transactions in seeds and agricultural chemicals, like the mergers of Dow Chemical Co and Dupont, and of Bayer and Monsanto. Those proposed deals, along with ChemChina’s purchase of Syngenta, would consolidate six agricultural chemical companies into three.Before going to work at the White House after Trump’s inauguration in January, Delrahim was a lobbyist with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP.

One client in 2016 was health insurer Anthem Inc, which this year lost a court fight with the Justice Department over whether it would be allowed to merge with Cigna. Anthem has appealed the loss.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker