William Baer, a Washington antitrust lawyer and former Federal Trade Commission official, was confirmed to head the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division.
Baer’s nomination as assistant attorney general, which had been stalled in Congress for most of the past year, was confirmed today by a Senate vote of 64-26.
Baer, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP, 62, will become the first fully confirmed head of the antitrust division since former chief Christine Varney left in August 2011. Since then, the division has been run by acting chiefs, including Sharis Pozen, Joseph Wayland and Renata Hesse.
Baer, named one of the “Decade’s Most Influential Lawyers” by the National Law Journal in 2010, is a former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s competition bureau and has represented corporate clients including General Electric Company Co. (GE:US), Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO:US) in private practice.
“He’s an experienced enforcer who knows how to make hard judgments in both directions,” said Janet McDavid, a partner with Hogan Lovells US LLP who has worked with Baer on numerous cases. “He’s aggressive, but sensible.”
Baer’s decision to block a proposed merger between Staples Inc. (SPLS:US) and Office Depot (ODP:US) in 1997 was viewed as risky at the time, yet set the FTC on a path as an aggressive enforcer, McDavid said.
McDavid said Baer is also a tough negotiator, as shown by his work on the Exxon-Mobile merger, which the FTC approved in November, 1999, after he had left the agency, with a consent decree that required the two oil giants to divest more than 2,400 gas stations and other outlets.
While at the FTC he also brought an antitrust action against chipmaker Intel Corp. (INTC:US) and oversaw challenges to Time Warner Inc. (TWX:US)’s acquisition of Turner Broadcasting System, the merger between Ciba-Geigy AG and Sandoz AG to create Novartis AG (NOVN) and the exclusionary tactics of Toys ’R’ US.
On one transaction McDavid handled with him, Baer rejected her client’s offer for a remedy and cleared the merger because “he thought it was the right thing to do,” McDavid said. “He could’ve had an easy consent decree, but he didn’t take it, because he’s principled.”
Arnold & Porter was lead outside counsel advising AT&T Inc. (T:US) in its proposed $39 billion buyout of Deutsche Telekom AG’s T- Mobile USA Inc. (DTE) Baer wasn’t personally involved in the transaction.
Baer’s colleagues Richard Rosen and Donna Patterson handled the transaction, which the Justice Department sued on Aug. 31 to block. AT&T abandoned the deal Dec. 19 after meeting opposition from regulators.
“Bill Baer has all the diverse experience and personal character for the job,” said Bert Foer, the president of the American Antitrust Institute, which favors vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws.
“The Antitrust Division will benefit from having a strong leader with the stamp of Senate approval, in a period in which it will be challenged by budget cuts, a growing wave of mergers and an economy that is increasingly concentrated,” Foer said.
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