Biden considers ex-Obama staff for handling Big Tech and other antitrust issues

Two former Obama administration officials have emerged as front runners for the top antitrust job at the U.S. Department of Justice under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, sources with knowledge of the matter have confirmed.

One of the picks is Renata Hesse, who has had several stints at the Justice Department since 2002 and most recently served as the Acting Assistant Attorney General from mid-2016 to Jan. 2017.

Hesse has also held private sector roles and advised on matters involving companies such as Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

According to her bio on the website of New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Hesse advised Amazon on its more than $13 billion acquisition of grocery chain Whole Foods.

Her role could pose conflict of interest issues as the Justice Department pursues its widely-followed case against Google, the sources said. The Justice Department sued Google on Oct. 20, accusing the $1 trillion company of dominating search and advertising.

The other front-runner is Juan Arteaga, who, according to sources, has also worked for the Justice Department under President Barack Obama between 2013 to 2017 and has served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Enforcement.

Arteaga has also held private sector roles and has advised companies such as JP Morgan Chase & Co and AT&T Inc.

Other contenders under consideration include Jonathan Kanter,a prominent Big Tech and Google critc who co-chaired the antitrust department at the law firm Paul Weiss and now runs his own firm, the sources said.

Many progressive groups favor Kanter’s appointment as they push for more aggressive antitrust enforcement.

Antitrust enforcement has emerged as an issue the Biden transition team has been paying attention to. For example, a third source said the transition is prioritizing getting a landing team in to start working on issues and that Arteaga could be a good fit.

According to three separate sources, the Biden transition’s agency review team for the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice held a meeting on the 18th of November with outside progressive and moderate groups to discuss antitrust policy priorities.

Some of the priorities discussed on the call included having more “aggressive” antitrust enforcers.

Other topics discussed during the session included reversing merger guidelines, retrospective scrutiny of mergers, revamping antiquated competition laws and offering more funds for federal enforcement agencies such as the FTC, the sources said.

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