Stop the AT&T Time Warner Merger

"As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few."


Justice Dept. sues to block AT&T merger with Time Warner

The U.S. Justice Department is suing to block AT&T's $85 billion merger with Time Warner.

David McAtee, senior executive vice president and general counsel for AT&T Inc., confirmed the suit in a Nov. 20 statement.

"Today's DOJ lawsuit is a radical and inexplicable departure from decades of antitrust precedent," McAtee said. "Vertical mergers like this one are routinely approved because they benefit consumers without removing any competitor from the market. We see no legitimate reason for our merger to be treated differently."

The suit comes weeks after news reports said the deal was stumbling.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, first reported on Nov. 2 that the Justice Department might sue to block the merger if the department can't come to an agreement with the two companies.

Multiple news outlets, including Bloomberg, the New York Times, CNBC and the Los Angeles Times, also reported that the Justice Department is asking AT&T to sell certain assets to alleviate some of the department's antitrust concerns. In particular, negotiations focused on selling either DirectTV or Turner Broadcasting, which owns several network television stations, including CNN.

PolitiFact does not use reporting from anonymous sources. But news on the deal has prompted criticism from people who believe President Donald Trump is influencing the department's dealings on the matter, given his rhetoric on the campaign.

"As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few," Trump said in an Oct. 22, 2016 speech.

Presidents cannot deny or approve mergers, but they can appoint people to departments that oversee them.

Trump's nominee for assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, was approved by the Senate in September. When the New York Times recently asked Delrahim about comments he had made a year ago in which he said the merger is not a major antitrust problem, Delrahim said those comments were taken out of context.

When asked about the merger during his November trip to Asia, Trump said the deal might end up in litigation. Before the lawsuit was announced, AT&T was planning to look into whether the White House had any influence or involvement by seeking communications records between the White House and the department, according to Bloomberg.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., along with other Senate Democrats, wrote letters to both Trump and Delrahim in which they asked if there have been communications between them on the matter.

When we asked about any communications, the Justice Department and the White House pointed to recent statements from Delrahim and White House spokesman Raj Shah, who both denied discussions on the merger took place.

AT&T has hired a lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, to serve as lead trial counsel in the case that the Justice Department sues. Petrocelli has represented Time Warner and Walt Disney in the past, and last year he represented Trump in lawsuits related to Trump University.

"Fortunately, the Department of Justice doesn't have the final say in this matter," McAtee said. "Rather, it bears the burden of proving to the U.S. District Court that the transaction violates the law. We are confident that the court will reject the Government's claims and permit this merger under longstanding legal precedent."

Until we see some resolution on the deal, we'll rate this In the Works.


U.S. Justice Department news release, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions Welcomes Makan Delrahim as Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division," Sept. 27, 2017

The New York Times, "AT&T Deal Puts Trump's Antitrust Cop at Center of a Political Storm," Nov. 9, 2017

Bloomberg, "Trump Says AT&T Deal for Time Warner May End Up in Court," Nov. 11, 2017

Bloomberg, "AT&T Ready to Probe the White House's Role in Time Warner Deal," Nov. 13, 2017

CNBC, "AT&T to ask for White House, DOJ communications if Feds sue to block Time Warner purchase, report says," Nov. 14, 2017

CNBC, "Government never tried to force CNN sale in AT&T-Time Warner deal, official says," Nov. 9, 2017

The Wall Street Journal, "U.S. Weighs Suit Against AT&T's Deal for Time Warner," Nov. 2, 2017

The Los Angeles Times, "AT&T says it will not sell CNN despite pressure from Trump's Justice Department," Nov. 8, 2017

Reuters, "AT&T Hires Ex-Trump Lawyer to Defend Possible Time Warner Deal Lawsuit," Nov. 16, 2017

Office of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, press release, Nov. 10, 2017

Email, Mark Abueg, U.S. Department of Justice public affairs specialist, Nov. 14, 2017

Email, White House press office, Nov. 14, 2017

AT&T Inc., "AT&T Statement on Latest Developments in Proposed Acquisition of Time Warner, Inc.," Nov. 20, 2017