Democrat Seeks Assurances on Merger Reviews Under Trump

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By Alexei Alexis

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) called on President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee to explain how he would guard against White House efforts to influence antitrust enforcement.

In a Jan. 18 letter to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Klobuchar said that recent meetings between Trump and corporate executives involved in high-profile merger deals underscore the importance of ensuring the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.

Trump has met with the chief executive officers of Monsanto Co. and Bayer AG, which announced a $66 billion merger deal last year. More recently, he met with the CEO of AT&T Inc., although the company has said its $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner Inc. didn’t come up.

“Even the appearance of inappropriate interference could irrevocably undermine the legitimacy of antitrust enforcement,” wrote Klobuchar, who serves as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee.

A Sessions spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Trump Campaign Vow

Before the election, Trump vowed to block the AT&T-Time Warner deal. His position on the Bayer-Monsanto transaction is unclear.

Bayer and Monsanto have promised Trump an $8 billion investment in the U.S. and thousands of new jobs should their planned merger clear regulatory approvals, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Jan. 17, according to a Bloomberg News report.

The companies’ planned merger has added to concerns about a wave of consolidation in the agrochemical industry. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is among lawmakers who are closely watching how regulators handle the merger.

“I’m afraid that this consolidation wave may have become a tsunami,” Grassley said during a committee hearing in September.

In light of the recent Trump meetings, Klobuchar said she wants Sessions to elaborate on his own antitrust enforcement stance.

“Traditionally, the White House has not been involved in antitrust enforcement decisions,” Klobuchar said in the letter. “In your view, should the President have any communication about or involvement in antitrust cases?”

The letter also asked Sessions whether he believes the president should ever recommend an enforcement decision, as well as how the nominee would handle potential interference from the White House.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 10, Sessions said he’d have “no hesitation” about enforcing antitrust laws. He also said there will be no political influence in the enforcement process.

In response to a question from Grassley (R-Iowa), Sessions said he would make it a priority to closely scrutinize agricultural mergers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexei Alexis in Washington at aalexis@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tiffany Friesen Milone at tmilone@bna.com

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