Why President Trump’s Meetings With CEOs Seeking Mergers Trouble Observers
Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisinger report in ProPublica:
When the CEOs of Monsanto and Bayer met now-President Donald Trump earlier this month, eager for a nod of assent for their controversial merger into an agrochemical and seed giant, they promised jobs and investment.
But as Trump talked with the CEOs from his perch on Fifth Avenue, antitrust experts shook their heads.
By meeting with the CEOs of Monsanto and Bayer as well as the head of AT&T, which is trying to merge with Time Warner, Trump has violated decades of White House practice by injecting himself directly into mergers awaiting Justice Department review.
“The public should be concerned that the career attorneys’ and economists’ analysis of the deals is not what the decision is going to be made on,” said Holt Lackey, a former antitrust counsel to the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee.
Several former Justice Department antitrust officials said in interviews they are worried that Trump will cut deals with companies that could hurt American consumers.
“If a transaction is harmful to competition and merging companies raise prices to consumers by 10 to 15 percent, it would not be good to allow that to happen just because the merged companies created some jobs,” said Gene Kimmelman, who was chief counsel in the Antitrust Division during the Obama administration. “That would be a horrible trade-off.”
Critics of the roughly $60 billion Monsanto-Bayer deal say that it will give the combined company too much pricing power, particularly in the seed and pesticide markets. While Bayer is known for its aspirin and other consumer products, the German conglomerate is also a big player in agriculture.
“I am concerned that the merger will curtail chemical and seed choices, and raise prices for farmers and the American consumer,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in a letterto the Justice Department.
Bayer and Monsanto together control 70 percent of the U.S. market for cotton seeds. . .