Divided Senate panel approves Obama pick for antitrust enforcer

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 20, 2012 3:56 PM
Divided Senate panel approves Obama pick for antitrust enforcer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to send to the full Senate William Baer's nomination as the Justice Department's top antitrust enforcer, even though a senior senator urged a "no" vote.

Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, had asked for a closed session on Thursday to discuss his concerns.

"I can't repeat my reasons here in open session, but I encourage a 'no' vote on this nominee," he said at the public part of the committee meeting.

Grassley declined to say precisely why he opposed Baer.

Twelve committee members voted to approve Baer and five opposed him.

Baer, a prominent attorney with the law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, was nominated in early February to be the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for antitrust.

No problems cropped up at his nomination hearing in July, where Baer urged careful monitoring of powerful companies willing to flex their muscles to crush corporate rivals.

If confirmed by the Senate, he will replace Joseph Wayland, the acting assistant attorney general for antitrust.

Baer is seen as someone who would continue the present policies of the Justice Department's antitrust office. The office, along with the Federal Trade Commission, reviews mergers to ensure they comply with antitrust law and prosecutes price-fixing and other antitrust violations.

His resume in government includes two stints at the FTC, one as a young attorney just out of law school and a second as head of the FTC's antitrust office.

Obama's Justice Department successfully opposed AT&T Inc's planned $39 billion deal to acquire wireless rival T-Mobile USA last year, and stopped NASDAQ OMX Group and IntercontinentalExchange Inc from buying NYSE Euronext.

But it struck compromises on other deals, such as Ticketmaster's purchase of Live Nation in 2010 and Google's buys of ticketing software company ITA and smartphone handset maker Motorola Mobility. It also struck a compromise on a controversial plan by Verizon Wireless to buy airwaves from cable operators for about $3.9 billion.

The division is currently looking at price-fixing in industries as disparate as auto parts, optical disk drives, the derivatives market, as well as interest-rate manipulation and whether cable companies are trying to prevent the rise of Internet video as an alternative to television.

It has also filed suit against Apple and two publishers -- Macmillan and Penguin Group, which are respectively units of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH and Pearson Plc -- accusing them of fixing the price of electronic books.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)