Working from a heavy wooden desk once used by J. Edgar Hoover, Kimmelman, 57, was a driving force behind Justice’s rejection of AT&T’s $39 billion bid for T-Mobile in November, a defining moment for the administration’s efforts to police the rapidly shifting high-tech and communications sectors.
As a chief counsel in Justice’s antitrust division, Kimmelman also helped lead its approval of Comcast’s joint venture with NBC Universal — a controversial mega-merger that was granted but with a litany of conditions to protect competition from online firms as well as consumer cable and Internet costs.
Kimmelman declined to comment for this story. The Justice Department confirmed his departure, but declined to comment further.
Before joining Justice, Kimmelman spent more than 30 years as a consumer advocate on technology and telecommunications issues at Consumers Union, an advocacy group that also publishes Consumer Reports, and served as chief counsel for the antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. With that experience, Kimmelman was a rarity in Washington: a veteran technology wonk with no ties to the private sector.
That’s partly what led the Obama administration’s former antitrust chief Christine Varney to pick Kimmelman as a senior adviser. She described him as a “top confidant” in her efforts to ramp up the antitrust enforcement of technology and media companies, such as Apple, Google, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, as they broadened their dominance. He also worked on financial services and health-care matters.
“He took on a lot and is one of the smartest lawyers I know,” Varney said in an interview. “He was able to understand very complex markets and also see ahead.”
Inside the Justice Department, Kimmelman became known for his extensive network of connections, including powerful figures on K Street as well as within the White House, the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission.
“Gene was very important and played a critical role in ensuring consumer welfare was at the forefront of decision making,” said Sharon Pozen who served as the interim replacement for Varney until last April. “Gene knows everyone in Washington, he is like a consigliere.”
Kimmelman’s departure may bring a sigh of relief to some high-tech and telecom companies. Some executives bristled at Justice’s appointment of an outspoken proponent of antitrust regulations.