In addition to high-profile scandal probes, the return of former telecom lawyer William Barr as U.S. attorney general could have major implications for T-Mobile US‘s (TMUS) proposed acquisition of Sprint (S) — especially if the Justice Department’s antitrust chief steps down, says one analyst.
President Donald Trump on Friday said he would nominate Barr, who served as the nation’s top law enforcement officer from 1991 to 1993 under former President George H.W. Bush, to again lead the DOJ. Barr also served as general counsel for Verizon Communications (VZ).
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Barr would replace Jeff Sessions. Sessions resigned on Nov. 7, after which the president appointed Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, as acting attorney general.
Barr’s plans for handling Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election are expected to be a major talking point. But his plans for the telecom industry also are worth noting.
Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, also surfaced recently as a possible candidate to replace Sessions.
As antitrust chief, Delrahim attempted to block AT&T‘s (T) purchase of media giant Time Warner. However, Delrahim has made positive comments about a merger combining T-Mobile and Sprint. T-Mobile, controlled by Deutsche Telekom (DTEGY), in April agreed to buy Sprint in a $26 billion deal.
T-Mobile, Sprint Merger outlook
If Delrahim leaves the department, the agency might be more likely to block T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint, just as the agency in 2011 blocked AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile, New Street Research analyst Blair Levin said in a note to clients this week.
Levin, in a report, noted that Barr and Delrahim sparred in the department’s recent review of AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner. At the time, Barr served on the media firm’s board of directors.
“Barr and Delrahim had dueling affidavits in the AT&T litigation in which Barr accused Delrahim of a deliberate misrepresentation,” Levin said in his report issued Sunday. “If Barr gets the nod, we believe, based on his experience as a telecom lawyer, that he is likely to be positive about the (T-Mobile-Sprint) deal.”
Barr A Telecom Lawyer For Verizon
“But Delrahim may have to go,” Levin added. “That could delay the decision and may also strengthen the hand of the DOJ staff, who we think is inclined to reject the (T-Mobile-Sprint) deal.”
After serving as attorney general in the first Bush administration, Barr in 1994 joined telecom GTE as general counsel. In 2000, GTE merged with Bell Atlantic to become Verizon. Barr left Verizon in 2008. He later joined the Kirkland & Ellis law firm.
The DOJ is appealing a court ruling that allowed AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner to proceed. AT&T closed the acquisition on June 15, though WarnerMedia continues to operate separately.
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