Trump Expresses Disdain For AT&T-Time Warner Deal
AT&T Inc.’s (NYSE:T) merger with Time Warner Inc. is under fire after negative comments from the White House. President Donald Trump said the merger between the companies would be “not good for the country.” Trump made the comment as he departed the White House for his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Earlier this week, the Justice Department said in a lawsuit that the $85 billion merger would lead to less innovation in the industry and higher bills for consumers. There are now questions about whether the president has exerted undue political influence on the Justice Department to block the deal. In October 2016, Trump said as a presidential candidate that his administration would never approve the deal.
Lawyers representing the telecommunications and media giants could argue that the president’s public comments about the deal amount to undue political influence on the Justice Department. A Justice Department official said that the White House had no role in the decision to file the lawsuit. They said that the lawsuit was a law enforcement decision based on facts and the law.
The president has repeatedly criticized Time Warner subsidiary CNN since taking office, calling it “Fake news and garbage journalism.” Trump blasted criticism at CNN in about two dozen tweets, speeches and news conferences. The two companies’ lawyers may argue that the decision to block the agreement was motivated by the president’s desire to get back at a news organization his dislikes.
The president has also insisted that he was not involved in the Justice Department review of the deal. However, tweets from the president already have been used for legal challenges to other administration actions, notably his travel ban against predominantly Muslim nations and his decision to end the DACA program.
AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson has called the president’s public criticism of the network “the elephant in the room.” Stephenson said he didn’t know whether the Justice Department action was motivated by the president. Justice Department officials reportedly have suggested that AT&T consider selling Turner, the branch of Time Warner that runs CNN and TBS, and some other channels in order to win approval for the deal. Stephenson said the company isn’t considering selling CNN.