Swamp-draining Trump pushes ex-AT&T lobbyist to oversee AT&T mega-merger

Also worked for Google, Comcast, Qualcomm...

Analysis One of the most popular applause lines from Donald Trump's presidential campaign was that he would "drain the swamp" – meaning put an end to the corrupt, revolving door of government and private practice that virtually defines modern Washington, DC.

As president, however, that plan has gone from unrealized to actively dropped as he has increasingly filled US government roles with not just lobbyists, but the very lobbyists that specialized in the issues they will be overseeing.

The latest example of putting alligators in charge of the swamp will head to a congressional hearing this week. Makan Delrahim, put forward by Team Trump, will appear in front of a Senate committee to get the green light to become Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice.

Delrahim was Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division under George W Bush between 2003 and 2005, so he has the necessary knowledge and experience.

As the person in charge of the DoJ's antitrust division, Delrahim will both sign off on any proposed corporate mergers and serve as the person in charge of digging into corporate abuses such as price fixing, bid rigging and distorting markets.

But when he left the department 12 years ago, he took a job at law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. And by "law firm" we mean powerful Washington, DC, lobbying outfit. He was hired precisely because of his experience and contacts at the DoJ's antitrust division. And now he is being hired back into the DoJ precisely because of his experience with corporations dealing with the antitrust division.

It is almost a perfect example of the conflict-of-interests circle that Washington, DC, is loathed for in the rest of America. It is the very definition of the swamp.

Let's dig in a little

While at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Delrahim had a number of main clients: AT&T, Anthem, Qualcomm and Comcast.

And it just so happens that the Justice Department is currently assessing a mega-merger proposal between AT&T and Time Warner (which owns HBO, Warner Brothers and CNN).

Even better, we already know what Delrahim thinks of the highly controversial proposal: he told Canadian business TV channel BNN, "I don't see this as a major antitrust problem" back in October. He also noted that he saw it as a vertical industry merger rather than between competitors and so predicted – accurately – that the FCC will have little or nothing to do with it, and only the DoJ's antitrust division would get involved.

Even then, he stated with reference to the Oracle-PeopleSoft merger that if the DoJ opposed, it could still go through if a judge disagrees with the antitrust division's assessment.

Another Delrahim client was healthcare giant Anthem. And it just so happens that Anthem is in the middle of an appeal against the DoJ's decision to block its $54bn merger with Cigna. Delrahim was a key advocate for that merger.

Tech focus

But Delrahim is mostly a tech industry specialist. He has advocated for Google, Oracle, T‑Mobile USA, Comcast and Qualcomm.

Which should prove interesting, given the new FCC chair's apparent determination – backed by the Trump Administration – to get rid of net neutrality rules. With the FCC effectively ruling itself out of regulating the internet, and with the FTC hamstrung, it will likely fall to the DoJ and its antitrust division to make sure these tech giants don't take the opportunity to abuse their market power.

If they do, and the DoJ starts looking into the issue, those corporations' top legal advisors will no doubt be happy that they have the personal cellphone number of the head of the antitrust division in their phones.

Oh, and we nearly forgot: there's the FTC's ongoing action against Qualcomm.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee say they will grill Delrahim on his conflicts of interest later this week, but no one expects it to make any difference. Especially when the swamp-drainer-in-chief himself put Delrahim forward for the job. ®

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