AT&T and the Department of Justice are going at it in court. Executives at AT&T are arguing that Donald Trump may have meddled in the company’s planned merger with Time Warner because Trump hates CNN, a network he constantly refers to as fake news.
During a pre-trial court hearing on Friday, AT& demanded “that the Justice Department hand over additional evidence to prove that President Trump did not wield political influence over the agency as its antitrust enforcers reviewed the company’s bid to acquire Time Warner.”
The Washington Post reports thatT&T wants the DOJ to provide logs of any conversations about the merger between the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The company has also asked that the DOJ, “disclose any conversations between Sessions and the agency’s antitrust division.”
Lawyers for the DOJ say AT&T has engaged in nothing more than a “fishing expedition.”
“There was no selective enforcement,” Justice Department lawyer Craig Conrath said at the hearing. “The president is unhappy with CNN. We don’t dispute that. But AT&T wants to turn that into a get-out-jail-free card for their illegal merger.”
The DOJ Is Attempting To Avoid A Trial
Lawyers for the DOJ are attempting to avoid a trial, asking the judge “not to allow AT&T’s defense of its proposed acquisition of Time Warner to include a claim that the Trump administration improperly challenged the deal for political reasons,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
A trial is scheduled to begin March 19 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. A ruling to obtain such documents is expected to be handed down by Judge Richard Leon on Tuesday.
Conrath argues that Donald Trump’s claims during his Presidential campaign were accurate and that such a merger would provide “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”
DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said on Friday that he received no “orders, instructions, or directions” related to the merger.”
A Change Of Opinion After His Nomination
Before he was tapped to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division by Donald Trump, Delrahim said the AT&T/Time Warner deal posed no “major antitrust problem.” He soon changed his tune, stating that AT&T acquiring Time Warner and its stable of popular TV programming would give the company too much control over distribution rights.
“This merger would greatly harm American consumers,” Delrahim said when the DOJ filed its lawsuit. “It would mean higher monthly television bills and fewer of the new, emerging innovative options that consumers are beginning to enjoy.”
The DOJ allegedly told AT&T that it could complete the merger by selling DirecTV or by having Time Warner sell CNN. AT&T said the merger was attractive because of the holdings it would control.