Top Justice Department Official Won’t Review Comcast Deal

The antitrust chief was involved with an earlier Comcast deal.

POMPANO BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 13: A Comcast truck is seen parked at one of their centers on February 13, 2014 in Pompano Beach, Florida. Today, Comcast announced a $45-billion offer for Time Warner Cable. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
National Journal
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Brendan Sasso
March 6, 2014, 8:02 a.m.

The Justice De­part­ment an­nounced Thursday that it will ex­am­ine Com­cast’s pro­posed $45 bil­lion mer­ger with Time Warner Cable, but the agency’s top an­ti­trust of­fi­cial will not par­ti­cip­ate.

Bill Baer, the head of the Justice De­part­ment’s An­ti­trust Di­vi­sion, re­cused him­self be­cause of his pre­vi­ous work in private prac­tice. When Baer was a law­yer for the firm Arnold & Port­er, he rep­res­en­ted NBC-Uni­ver­sal and Gen­er­al Elec­tric in their 2011 deal with Com­cast.

Prin­cip­al Deputy As­sist­ant At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Ren­ata Hesse will lead the de­part­ment’s re­view, along with Deputy As­sist­ant At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Dav­id Gel­fand, the agency an­nounced.

The de­part­ment will ex­am­ine wheth­er the mer­ger between the na­tion’s top two cable pro­viders would vi­ol­ate fair-com­pet­i­tion laws. Either the Justice De­part­ment or the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion re­views all mer­gers over a par­tic­u­lar size. 

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion will con­duct a par­al­lel in­vest­ig­a­tion to de­term­ine wheth­er the cable deal is in the pub­lic’s in­terest.

Con­sumer-ad­vocacy groups and some Demo­crats on Cap­it­ol Hill are rais­ing alarm over the mer­ger’s po­ten­tial to raise prices and give one massive com­pany sweep­ing power over ac­cess to in­form­a­tion, en­ter­tain­ment, and news.

Com­cast and Time Warner Cable of­fi­cials note that there is no over­lap between their net­works and ar­gue that the mer­ger would there­fore not re­duce any choice for con­sumers. They ex­pect to com­plete the deal be­fore the end of the year.