Politico

White House eyes veteran antitrust lawyer for chief FTC post


The White House recently interviewed Kevin Arquit, a partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres, as a potential candidate for Federal Trade Commission chair, two people with knowledge of the discussions told POLITICO.

Arquit is at least the second candidate interviewed by the Trump administration as a potential replacement for current FTC Chair Joseph Simons, who has fallen out of favor with some in the White House for publicly resisting President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on social media companies. As the head of an independent agency, Simons cannot be fired and his term isn’t set to expire until 2024.

Simons hasn’t announced any plans to leave the agency, which he has helmed since May 2017.

Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, spoke with Arquit about the FTC role, both people said. They spoke anonymously to speak candidly about the private interview process. White House officials have also spoken to Gail Slater, a lawyer for Fox Corp. who previously worked at both the FTC and the White House as an adviser on tech, telecom and cyber policy.

The White House would not comment on the record, but a senior administration official told POLITICO in a statement: “There are no ongoing interviews for FTC chairman.”

Despite the Trump administration’s ongoing investigations into Silicon Valley companies, Arquit has previously cautioned against some of the rhetoric around breaking up tech giants, singling out the primary campaign calls from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) last year.

“This is really an assault on our free enterprise system,” the longtime antitrust lawyer said in a Bloomberg TV interview last year. “To me, this proposal, it’s anti-worker, it’s anti-community and it’s also anti-consumer.”

These government probes create a significant “cloud” over the tech companies, he told CNBC in the summer of 2019, calling the scrutiny an “elephant in the room” chilling their behavior. Months later during another conversation, he described the FTC investigation into Amazon’s practices as “broad” and “proactive.” In these TV appearances, he has also defended the case behind T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint, a game-changing transaction in the U.S. wireless market that officially closed this year.

Arquit served as the FTC’s general counsel and top competition staffer during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. In private practice, he has represented dozens of companies in mergers and civil antitrust matters including DirecTV in its merger with AT&T, Office Depot in its tie-up with Office Max and Pilgrim’s Pride in antitrust suits over alleged price-fixing of broiler chickens.

Arquit’s law firm colleague, Marc Kasowitz, served as Trump’s personal lawyer for more than 15 years and ran the president’s legal strategy for a brief time in 2017 as he was in the early stages of the Russia investigation. The legal strategy then was taken over by Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer at the time, and Washington attorney John Dowd.

Earlier this year, Arquit served as the arbitrator in the Justice Department’s first ever arbitration over the proposed merger of Novelis, the world’s largest aluminum recycler, and rival aluminum company Aleris. Arquit sided with the DOJ, and Novelis — the largest U.S. producer of aluminum used in cars — agreed to sell off a plant in Kentucky to finalize the deal.

Arquit didn’t respond to calls and e-mails for comment.

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