Attorney General Eric Holder told Rep. Maxine Waters
(D-Calif.) that the Justice Department was not trying to regulate by
consent decree in its merger review process, that its Comcast/NBCU merger
review was "appropriately aggressive," and that the White
House's courting of GE CEO Jeff Immelt did not and should not have played any
part in that decisionmaking process.
That came in a House Judiciary Committee oversight
hearing in which Waters complained that Justice was providing "rubber
stamp" approvals of mergers, a complaint Democrats levied
against Justice under the Bush administration.
Waters focused on Comcast/NBCU, a merger she had
numerous concerns and complaints about.
She said the antitrust division was becoming more regulator
than legal enforcement agency. She pointed to the temporary conditions it
has to enforce in Comcast/NBCU and other mergers, as opposed to simply blocking
a deal or requiring divestiture when appropriate.
Holder said Justice was not trying to regulate via
"I think the antitrust division is tough where it finds
violations of the antitrust laws," he said. He said he did not think the
conditions placed on the Comcast/NBCU deal were insignificant. He said Justice
is not going into a review trying to find a way to make a merger occur.
"I think that we have been appropriately aggressive," he said.
Waters laid into Comcast and NBCU, saying that their
contributions to nonprofit organizations garnered support from civil rights
groups and churches, but that her concerns had been about access to independent
programming, diversity in management, and other "significant and
serious issues. "We got outplayed because they were able to roll in a lot
of folks who had got contributions for their yearly conventions and
She opined that maybe she should stop fighting mergers and
"allow them to come in with "conditions that they think play well
and you all just adopt these conditions and let these mergers go through."
Holder reiterated that the antitrust division was taking its
enforcement responsibilities seriously.
Waters also suggested some possible conflict with the fact
that at the same time Justice and the FCC
were considering the merger and she was trying to fight
to get people to pay attention to how huge the merger was, the president was
lining up GE's Jeffrey Immelt to chair his council on Jobs and
Asked whether he knew that, Holder said he did now,
though not at the time, but that in any event Justice would not and should
not take that into consideration. Waters wanted to know why. He said that was
not "consistent with the enforcement responsibilities of the
antitrust division." When pressed by Waters why he did not think Justice
should take into account a relationship between the administration and GE
that could cloud their objectivity about the merger, Holder "cut to the quick."
He said Justice acts independently of the White House or anything it may be
"The justice department's determination in that or any
other case is not affected by relationships that exist between the White
House and the head of GE. That didn't come into play in the determination that
the Justice Department made in that case. That is the bottom line."