Antitrust Nominee Pledges International Focus, Recusal

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By Liz Crampton

President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Justice Department’s antitrust division said May 10 that he’ll emphasize international antitrust enforcement and wants a deputy focused on the issue if he is confirmed by the Senate.

“One of the greatest exports of the United States has unfortunately been antitrust laws,” said Makan Delrahim, pointing to agencies around the world who are new to antitrust enforcement.

Delrahim’s comments at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing were the first indication of how he’ll lead the antitrust division since his nomination in March.

International enforcement is of particular interest to Delrahim. He served as deputy assistant director and worked on international issues during a prior stint at the division under President George W. Bush.

“They are doing what they think is right,” he said of other countries’ enforcement agencies. “In some cases, I’ve heard reports that there might be protectionism and discrimination in the application of those laws to West companies.”

He didn’t go into specifics on this statement, but China competition authorities, in particular, have been criticized for targeting U.S. companies in anti-monopoly probes, such as Microsoft Corp. and Qualcomm Corp.

“They may be misapplying the law, like we did in the 1970s, for example, before the advent of some of the economic thinking,” Delrahim continued. “I’d like to focus particularly in that area. I think having a deputy that’s focused on the international area, that would be an area that I’d like to look to and see how we can pay more attention to that.”

Recusals, Independence Promised

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the antitrust subcommittee, asked Delrahim if he will recuse himself from issues related to his prior work as a lobbyist for companies attempting to merge, including Anthem Inc., whose merger with Cigna Corp was blocked by the Justice Department. Klobuchar was the only Democratic senator to ask questions of Delrahim.

Delrahim said he will step aside from cases involving Anthem. He also said that upon confirmation, one of the first things he’ll do is consult with the Justice Department’s ethics offices on other potential recusals.

“I have three little children. I have no intention of going to jail,” Delrahim joked.

Delrahim also said he intends to maintain the antitrust division’s independence. During the presidential campaign, Trump forcefully opposed the proposed tie-up of AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Inc. After the election, Trump met with executives from Bayer AG and Monsanto Co. to discuss their deal, currently being reviewed by the Justice Department. Antitrust groups have expressed concern that Trump is too involved with mergers pending at the DOJ.

“As the attorney general has also reiterated, politics will have no role in the enforcement of antitrust laws,” Delrahim said.

‘Sharp Policy Mind’

Delrahim, a former staffer for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), senior Republican on the committee, is expected to be confirmed. A date hasn’t been set yet for a committee vote.

Hatch, a former chairman of the committee, introduced Delrahim at the hearing and said he has a “sharp policy mind” and is “exceptionally well qualified and prepared” to lead the division.

The hearing lasted less than an hour, and Delrahim breezed through about a half dozen questions posed by committee members. Noel Francisco, nominee for Solicitor General, and Steven Engel, nominee for assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, also testified.

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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