July 28, 2021

DealBook: An Antitrust Chief at Justice Is Leaving

Sharis A. Pozen, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's antitrust division.Stephen Crowley/The New York TimesSharis A. Pozen, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

7:31 p.m. | Updated

A shuffling at the top of the Justice Department’s antitrust unit could lead to an election-year fight between President Obama and Senate Republicans.

Sharis A. Pozen, the acting assistant attorney general for the antitrust division, has informed the attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., that she will leave by the end of April, the Justice Department announced late Monday.

The leading candidate to replace Ms. Pozen is William J. Baer, head of the antitrust group at the law firm Arnold Porter and a former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s competition bureau, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Antitrust experts said that Mr. Baer would continue the government’s reinvigorated enforcement of the antitrust laws, recently seen in its vocal opposition to the proposed merger between ATT and T-Mobile USA that collapsed last month. Mr. Baer did not respond to requests for comment.

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The nomination of a permanent antitrust chief could lead to a battle between the White House and Congress. The post requires a Senate confirmation vote, and those normally slow to a trickle during a presidential election year. The White House has expressed frustration with partisanship on Capitol Hill and the slow pace of Congress in confirming judicial nominations and executive branch positions.

The Justice Department has been without a permanent antitrust head since last August, when Ms. Pozen became the interim antitrust chief. She succeeded Christine A. Varney, who was named the government’s top antitrust lawyer by President Obama in January 2009. Ms. Varney left the Justice Department to join the law firm Cravath, Swaine Moore.

When Ms. Pozen succeeded Ms. Varney, she told the White House that she did not want the permanent post but would stay on until the resolution of the ATT-T-Mobile deal. Ms. Pozen joined the Justice Department in 2009 from the law firm Hogan Hartson, where she worked with Ms. Varney. She is expected to return to private practice, though it is unclear where.

A change at the top of the Justice Department’s antitrust unit would also come at a time when the White House is strengthening antitrust enforcement. During the administration of George W. Bush, the government was considered to have had a weak record in policing mergers and bringing monopolization cases. Over the last several decades, the federal courts have also reduced the scope of the antitrust laws.

The government’s newfound toughness was highlighted last month with the scuttling of ATT’s proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile. Facing hostility from the Obama administration, the two telecommunications companies scrapped the deal.

The Justice Department also collected more than $1 billion in fines and other monetary assessments in 2011, according to a recent report by the law firm Gibson Dunn Crutcher. It was only the third time that the government has surpassed the $1 billion mark for such collections. A recent victory was the division’s securing a dozen guilty pleas in a long-running investigation into bid-rigging in the municipal bond market.

William Baer in 1998Mike Theiler/ReutersWilliam Baer in 1998.

Legal experts say that an antitrust unit under Mr. Baer would remain aggressive. A director of the F.T.C.’s antitrust division from 1995 to 1999, Mr. Baer was seen as a strict enforcer of the antitrust laws, challenging mergers that included the combination of Staples and Office Depot.

“If the rumor turns out to be true, Bill Baer would be a very well-qualified nominee,” said Albert A. Foer, the president of the American Antitrust Institute. “He is organizationally and politically savvy, has top-level experience on the private side and is also unusually personable.”

Mr. Baer, a graduate of Stanford Law School, worked at Arnold Porter before and after his government service during the 1990s. He has had a number of prominent representations in private practice, including successfully defending General Electric from the government’s price-fixing accusations in 1994.

Other contenders to replace Ms. Pozen are Richard Parker, a partner at the law firm O’Melveny Myers, and Seth Bloom, a longtime aide to Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin and the head of the Senate antitrust subcommittee.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6e9d9a5ad6d03d7c7dcdc037f6b799f2

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