Exclusive: Delrahim to head Justice Department antitrust unit - sources

WASHINGTON/BOSTON (Reuters) - Makan Delrahim, a veteran lobbyist on President Donald Trump’s transition team, is expected to be nominated to head the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, two sources familiar with the vetting process told Reuters on Friday.

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

The sources spoke on background because an announcement has not yet been made.

As the proposed new chief of the Antitrust Division, he would be in charge of overseeing corporate mergers at a time when many investors and corporate executives hope for a more relaxed attitude toward deal-making after years of tougher oversight by the Obama administration.

The department is reviewing a number of major deals, including mergers of Dow and Dupont and Bayer and Monsanto. Those proposed transactions, along with a third deal, ChemChina’s purchase of Syngenta, would consolidate six agricultural chemical giants into three.

The Justice Department is also assessing AT&T’s controversial plan to buy Time Warner, owner of HBO, Warner Brothers and the news network CNN.

President Trump has not criticized the Time Warner deal since the November election but during his campaign he said it was an example of “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

Delrahim must be confirmed by the Senate.

Before coming to work at the White House following Trump’s inauguration in January, Delrahim was a lobbyist with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP.

In 2016, he lobbied for the semiconductor company Qualcomm, Comcast Corp and Zuffa LLC, also known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, among others, according to the Lobbying Disclosure Act Database.

Another 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 rival Cigna. Anthem is appealing the loss.

Delrahim, whose family emigrated from Iran when he was young, cemented his loyalty to Trump last summer when he wrote a piece in the New York Post urging Republicans to fall in line behind Trump. Only Trump would be able to win and ensure conservatives on the Supreme Court, the lawyer argued, adding “There’s no glory in handing the Supreme Court to a Democratic president. But if we write off Trump, that’s what will happen.”

Delrahim is a veteran of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, where he was deputy assistant attorney general from 2003 to 2005, under then-President George W. Bush. He specialized in international antitrust.

Reporting by Diane Bartz and Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Bernard Orr