William Baer, whose law firm championed AT&T Inc.’s failed bid to acquire T-Mobile USA Inc., is the top candidate to head the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division, two people familiar with the situation said.
Baer, 61, who leads the antitrust group at Arnold & Porter LLP in Washington, is the subject of a background investigation for the job by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the people, who didn’t want to be identified because the process is confidential.
The White House is vetting Baer for the post after Sharis Pozen, acting chief of the division, said Jan. 23 she will leave her position on April 30.
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., Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. in private practice.
“He has a fantastic reputation in the antitrust bar,” said Kenneth Glazer, who served as deputy director of the competition bureau after Baer had left. “He’s one of the heavyweights -- very strong in terms of his litigations and also in terms of his policy judgment.”
Baer and Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the potential nomination in separate e-mails.
While Baer is the top candidate, the administration is considering others, including Seth Bloom, antitrust counsel to Wisconsin Democratic Senator Herb Kohl, and Leslie Overton, a deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s antitrust division, said a person familiar with the process who asked not to be identified because of its confidential nature.
Also under consideration is David Turetsky, an antitrust lawyer with Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP and a former senior official in the antitrust division, said another person who has knowledge of the candidates and didn’t want to be identified because the process isn’t public.
Overton, through Talamona, declined to comment on whether she is being considered. Bloom and Turetsky also declined to comment.
Arnold & Porter was lead outside counsel advising AT&T in its proposed $39 billion buyout of Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile USA unit. Baer’s colleagues Richard Rosen and Donna Patterson handled the transaction, which the Justice Department sued to block Aug. 31. AT&T abandoned the deal Dec. 19 after meeting opposition from regulators.
Baer’s name first surfaced as the potential nominee for the division head when Obama took office, said Andrew Gavil, an antitrust law professor at Howard University in Washington.
“The focus on him is not at all new,” Gavil said.
While Baer is a “highly qualified candidate” with “high-level government experience,” his consideration may have been more “problematic” if the AT&T case had dragged on, he said.
If Baer is nominated, the selection would follow a tradition established by the last several administrations of choosing someone from a major law firm to head the division, Gavil said.
Baer also might help bridge differences between the FTC and the Justice Department, which share responsibility for enforcing antitrust laws, said Spencer Waller, an antitrust law professor at Loyola University in Chicago.
The relationship between the two agencies “has been frayed at times in the past few years,” he said.
As a nominee, Baer might be delayed from assuming the post by Senate Republicans, who may refuse to confirm appointees in response to Obama filling positions during a congressional recess, Gavil said.
If Baer is selected, the administration would have no problem lining up former Republican chiefs of the antitrust division to attest to his qualifications, he said.