President Trump on Monday named Makan Delrahim, a former government antitrust enforcer and corporate lobbyist, to lead the Justice Department’s review of mergers and acquisitions.
The appointment is being closely watched because companies across industries have been hoping that the new Republican administration will be more permissive with mergers.
The Obama administration had blocked dozens of blockbuster deals over the past eight years, including AT&T’s bid for T-Mobile in 2011 and Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable in 2015.
Mr. Delrahim, who serves as legal counsel to the president, will be quickly tested in his new position by AT&T’s $85 billion bid for Time Warner, which is set to be reviewed this year. Other mergers under review include Dow Chemical’s bid for Dupont and Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto.
The review of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner has drawn speculation because of promises Mr. Trump made on the campaign trail to block the deal. Mr. Trump’s disdain for news coverage by CNN, which is owned by Time Warner, has raised questions over whether the president may try to influence the deal. Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s attorney general, has promised to block any political influence on Justice Department decisions.
Mr. Delrahim, whose nomination will go before the Senate for confirmation, is expected to take a more free-market approach to his job of antitrust enforcement, according to analysts. His style is expected to be in line with mainstream Republicans.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Delrahim’s appointment.
He has deep experience in government as the former deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust during the George W. Bush administration. He previously was an antitrust attorney and partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Los Angeles.
Mr. Delrahim also has a background in lobbying that could create conflicts of interest in merger reviews and antitrust enforcement actions. In 2016, he was registered as a lobbyist for Blue Cross Blue Shield, Caesars Entertainment and Qualcomm, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s Open Secrets website. Seven years ago, he was a registered lobbyist for Comcast.
Mr. Delrahim left private law to join the Trump administration in January. He had been tasked to work on the Senate confirmation of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.