May 10, 2017 / 8:07 PM / 2 years ago

Trump U.S. antitrust nominee says will be independent of White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Makan Delrahim, who was chosen by President Donald Trump to be the top U.S. antitrust regulator, said on Wednesday that he would maintain independence from the White House in enforcing antitrust law.

The Senate must still vote to confirm Delrahim.

In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee overshadowed by repercussions over Trump’s firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, Delrahim reiterated that he would recuse himself from a fight over whether health insurer Anthem may merge with rival Cigna.

Delrahim had worked for Anthem as a lobbyist when he was with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP.

Obama’s Justice Department sued to stop the deal, and the case is currently under appeal.

Asked what he would do if the White House wanted to discuss a deal being considered by the division, Delrahim said antitrust enforcement was law enforcement.

“The independence of the decisions made in prosecuting and reviewing mergers as well as other conduct is a serious one that should be free from any political influence,” he said. “They will be free if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed.”

Delrahim currently works in the White House as deputy assistant and deputy counsel to the president.

If confirmed as expected, Delrahim’s antitrust division would review corporate mergers at a time when many investors and corporate executives are anticipating a more relaxed view of deal-making.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration faced a large number of megadeals in what one enforcer called a “merger tsunami” and blocked many of them.

Antitrust experts who have followed Delrahim’s career expect him to follow in the footsteps of a former boss, Hewitt Pate, who was assistant attorney general for 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.

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 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.

Reporting by Diane Bartz

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