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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Biden's nomination of veteran antitrust attorney Jonathan Kanter to lead the Justice Department's antitrust division — the government's most powerful competition watchdog — shows just how serious the White House is about getting tough on tech.

Why it matters: Kanter, known for his strong views that the feds should do more to rein in the power of large corporations, has been a favorite of progressives who share those beliefs.

  • His appointment as assistant attorney general for antitrust will be the third leg of the administration's antitrust stool, along with FTC chief Lina Khan and White House adviser Tim Wu, who also want the government to lean in on competition issues.

The big picture: Kanter's nomination comes on the heels of Biden's sweeping executive order calling for federal agencies to take action to preserve and invigorate competition in the industries they oversee — from pharmaceuticals to technology.

  • In response to the order, Khan and Richard Power, who has been acting assistant attorney general, released a joint statement saying that they'd review merger guidelines to ensure they are not overly "permissive."
  • Kanter will surely share that view and strive to work closely with Khan.

What he's said: In 2018 Senate testimony, Kanter made the case for antitrust enforcement being a preferred method for keeping monopoly-like behavior in check.

  • U.S. policymakers, he said, should "vigorously explore new questions in antitrust to ensure that U.S. antitrust law remains relevant to the realities of today's economy and society."
  • "Antitrust enforcement, as opposed to regulation, is also a far more precise and effective tool to protect the free market.... Moreover antitrust enforcement allows prosecutors to exercise discretion and consider specific facts and circumstances at issue before bringing a case."

Between the lines: His references to precision and discretion will likely appeal to Republicans who are incensed with tech platforms for what they see as censorship but don't historically support broad measures against big business.

  • Despite his skepticism of Big Tech generally, his focus on using a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer could help him win Senate confirmation.

What they're saying: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn), who leads the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, applauded the nomination, as did Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

  • "For years, Jonathan Kanter has been a leader in the effort to increase antitrust enforcement against monopolies by federal, state, and international competition authorities," Klobuchar said in a statement.

Yes, but: Defenders of tech will likely accuse him of bias, given his past work on complaints brought by foes of Google and other companies.

  • His previous work has raised questions among observers about whether he will need to recuse himself from the DOJ's ongoing antitrust case against Google, but supporters point out that he didn't represent a party in the case.
  • Amazon and Facebook have asked Khan, the FTC chair, to recuse herself from antitrust matters involving the companies, given her previous statements and work advocating for more aggressive enforcement against the companies.

Go deeper

Biden names tech foe as DOJ antitrust chief

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Jonathan Kanter, an antitrust veteran who is a favorite of progressives, is the Biden administration's choice to lead the Department of Justice's antitrust section as it pursues a raft of cases against tech giants, the White House announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The nomination completes a trifecta of wins for Democrats who want to see the standards for holding tech companies accountable for monopolistic behavior broaden beyond the traditional "consumer harm" measure.

Manhattan, Westchester prosecutors request evidence from Cuomo investigation

Gov. Cuomo during a press conference in New York City on Aug. 2. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The district attorneys for Manhattan and Westchester County on Wednesday requested evidence related to New York Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

Why it matters: The district attorneys are investigating if alleged conduct highlighted in an independent report published by James' office that occurred in their jurisdictions was criminal in nature.

Scoop: Buzzy media startup Puck launches in beta

Puck.news

Puck, a splashy new digital media company, is coming out of stealth mode, Axios has learned. The company debuted its landing page, puck.news, on Wednesday, and will officially launch its website in September.

Why it matters: The company has been quietly building a roster of top talent, but hadn't confirmed its branding or exact business plans up until now.

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