Vigorous U.S. Merger Scrutiny Seen Continuing Under New Boss

  • Hesse succeeds Baer as Justice Department's antitrust chief
  • She oversaw government reviews of bids by Comcast and AT&T

Renata Hesse, a senior official of the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division, is taking over leadership of the unit as it pursues litigation to stop Halliburton Co.’s takeover of Baker Hughes Inc. and investigates tie-ups among four of the five biggest U.S. health insurers.

Hesse, a deputy assistant attorney general for the division, succeeds outgoing chief Bill Baer, who has been promoted to the department’s No. 3 post, according to a Justice Department statement Friday. Her appointment is effective on Sunday. The division is responsible for investigating mergers and anticompetitive conduct by companies and individuals.

Hesse is expected to continue the kind of vigorous merger enforcement that was common under Baer, said Mark Ryan, a lawyer at Mayer Brown in Washington who worked with Hesse at the division as director of litigation.

"Renata has been a key part of the antitrust policy we’ve seen over the last few years, so I wouldn’t expect anything to change," he said.

Hesse helped lead the division’s investigation into Comcast Corp.’s takeover attempt of Time Warner Cable Inc., a deal that collapsed last year after the department raised objections. Before that, as senior counsel to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, she oversaw the agency’s review of AT&T Inc.’s failed bid in 2011 to buy T-Mobile US Inc.

In addition to the Halliburton case, the antitrust division is investigating proposed tie-ups among U.S. health insurers: Anthem Inc.’s planned takeover of Cigna Corp. and Aetna Inc.’s deal for Humana Inc.

Allen Grunes, an antitrust lawyer at the Konkurrenz Group in Washington, said companies looking to get deals approved shouldn’t expect a let-up in enforcement with the leadership change.

"Institutionally I’d expect the trajectory to stay the same," said Grunes, a former Justice Department attorney.

(Updates with lawyer's comments in third paragraph.)
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