Arnold & Porter antitrust guru William Baer told the Senate Judiciary Committee July 26 that not much would change at the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division if he gets confirmed to lead it – and there seemed to be little opposition to that happening.

“I would take this job, if confirmed, with a little bit of humility about what might need to be changed. I think the Antitrust Division has been well run in recent years,” Baer testified. He said former assistant attorney general Christine Varney, and two acting assistant attorney generals, Sharis Pozen and Joseph Wayland, “are people I admire and respect and who I think have done a very good job.”

“The first task for me I think would be to go in with ears open, and talk about where we’re at, understand whether there are challenges that need some changes,” Baer said. “But I don’t go down with a pre-set agenda.”

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) noted to Baer, who leads the antitrust division at Arnold & Porter, that “you will suffer great reduction in your remuneration” if confirmed and questioned why he wanted the government antitrust job.

“I come from a proud family tradition of public service,” said Baer, who did two stints at the Federal Trade Commission, the latest as the director of the Bureau of Competition in the late 1990s. “I came to Washington hoping I would have multiple opportunities to pursue public service, so this is a great opportunity for me.”

“Why antitrust? I’ve come to appreciate…that removing both government and private restraints on free market competition actually pays off, it makes a difference in human lives,” Baer said.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) asked about Baer’s philosophy regarding when the government should get involved in business. Lee and Baer agreed the good of customers should be the top priority, and Lee said several times he agreed with Baer’s responses.

“I think sound economic analysis is fundamental to good antitrust enforcement. That means being able to articulate a theory of harm that has occurred from past behavior or is likely to occur from future behavior,” Baer said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about consumers. It’s not about competitors.”

After the hearing, Baer – who submitted 1,450 pages of news articles in which he was quoted from as far back as 1991 as part of his confirmation packet – declined comment on why he was interested in taking a job that could only last a few months if President Barack Obama is not re-elected.

He also submitted 775 pages of remarks he has given to FTC and other agencies, and 557 pages of testimony and other statements, testaments to his longevity and elite status in the antitrust legal community.

Baer, if confirmed, would join DOJ on the heels of the antitrust division’s successful effort to stop the $39 billion merger between AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA. A team from Arnold & Porter, including Richard Rosen and Donna Patterson, defended AT&T in the litigation in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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