Top antitrust official Varney touts accomplishments in final speech

When Varney took office in April 2009, she stepped up investigations into anticompetitive behavior. At that time, the antitrust division had not gone to court to stop a merger in five years.

Varney took a swipe at the record of the Bush administration, saying, “After almost a decade marked by antitrust inactivity we have made significant progress on a variety of fronts.” 

Varney noted that her division often charted a middle ground between blocking mergers outright and not doing anything. Instead, in several instances, Varney’s office allowed companies to merge but only after they agreed to a variety of provisions to ensure fair competition.

She pointed to her office’s handling of Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal as a highlight of her tenure.

Varney said that the deal between the two media giants would have allowed Comcast “to limit competition by either withholding or raising the price of NBC [Universal] content and effectively stifling new competition in the online video market.”

After making it clear to the companies that her office was prepared to take the issue to court, Varney said that Comcast and NBC agreed to a consent decree that preserved competition. 

Touting her office's criminal investigations, Varney noted that in fiscal 2010, the division filed 60 criminal cases, imposed more than $500 million in fines and that 29 individuals are now serving jail sentences. 

When asked why she chose to leave the Justice Department, Varney said, “I think it’s a good time. We set the course we wanted to set.”

Varney will step down next month and will join a New York law firm.

In addition to the AT&T and T-Mobile merger, her successor will handle potential antitrust investigations into Google.    

Varney came full circle in giving her final speech at the Center for American Progress. She made her first public remarks as assistant attorney general at the same think tank two and a half years ago.