Absent its Chief, Justice Dept. Antitrust Division Fills Out

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By Liz Crampton

The Justice Department’s antitrust division continued to fill out its leadership by naming a new deputy to head up economics analysis while the nominee to lead the division still waits for Senate confirmation.

Luke Froeb began serving as deputy assistant attorney general for economics on July 24, a DOJ aide confirmed.

The Justice Department’s antitrust division has plugged along investigating mergers and anticompetitive conduct while Makan Delrahim, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the division, waits for confirmation. The Senate has moved slower than in prior administrations in confirming a nominee for this particular position. DOJ antitrust nominations from the last four presidents were all confirmed by the end of June.

Delrahim’s absence from the division means he’s missed out on shaping the administration’s antitrust policy. He’s stood on the sidelines as DOJ officials have cleared mega-mergers like Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co., won a court battle over a merger of competing nuclear waste companies, and chosen not to pursue a Supreme Court appeal of the agency’s antitrust case against American Express Co.

The DOJ has also continued to charge individuals in its price-fixing investigations in the canned seafood and real estate foreclosure auction industries.

Decisions Coming

A number of major enforcement actions are in the pipeline that Delrahim may not get a chance to weigh in on if the Senate doesn’t act quickly. U.S. antitrust officials have started talking with AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Inc. about possible conditions that could secure approval of their $85.4 billion tie-up, according to Bloomberg News. That’s an indication that the months-long review could come to a close soon.

Delrahim was one of Trump’s first assistant attorney general selections when he was nominated in March. A veteran of the antitrust division, Delrahim had most recently been advising the White House on judicial nominations. He also worked as a lobbyist for merging companies while in private practice.

In April, Delrahim promised members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would maintain independence from the White House amid concerns that Trump would meddle in merger investigations. Democrats have since asked the Justice Department to ensure impartiality in the proposed mergers of Bayer AG and Monsanto Co. and AT&T-Time Warner.

Froeb is the third deputy assistant attorney general named to help guide the division’s work under the leadership of Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch. Finch will move into the number two spot upon Delrahim’s confirmation. Froeb joins Bryson Bachman, former chief counsel for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Donald Kempf, a long-time merger defense attorney.

Froeb is former chief economist for the FTC, where he “managed over a hundred civil servants dedicated to tearing down barriers to competition, and enforcing the consumer protection and antitrust laws of the United States,” according a biography on the DOJ’s website.

To contact the reporter on this story: Liz Crampton in Washington at lcrampton@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bna.com

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