Trump ‘interfering in AT&T deal’, says CNN correspondent

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

Trump’s dislike of Time Warner’s CNN news channel ‘may stall takeover by AT&T’

Washington politics and President Donald Trump’s hostility to the TV news channel CNN may be delaying AT&T’s $86 billion takeover of Time Warner.

More than a year after AT&T decided to buy Time Warner, which owns CNN, the telecoms giant faces continual hurdles to get the deal done.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is reviewing the proposal, led by Makan Delrahim, the former Patton Boggs lawyer who was confirmed as assistant attorney general for the anti-trust division in September.

According to numerous leaks in the US, he is concerned that a merger will hurt competition and may file a lawsuit if his anti-trust concerns are left unsolved.

Delrahim, who spent the beginning of 2017 in the White House working for President Donald Trump before moving to the DOJ, has put a last-minute roadblock in the way of the merger.

The deal was announced in October 2016, when Senator Hillary Clinton was leading in the polls for the presidential election, and the takeover was originally due to be complete by 22 October 2017.

Brian Stelter, media correspondent of CNN, reported Trump’s criticisms of the DOJ on Saturday, adding: “That’s why there are whispers in political and media circles that the president may be trying to interfere with AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, especially now that the DOJ is reportedly considering a lawsuit to block the deal.”

Stelter said: “According to my sources, executives at AT&T and Time Warner have been under the impression that DOJ approval was right around the corner. The companies have been negotiating what's known as a ‘consent decree’ that would apply some predictable conditions to the deal.”

But reports of court action by the DOJ at the end of last week were “an unwelcome surprise” to executives at the two companies, he added.

Stelter recalled: “As a candidate, Trump publicly vowed to block the merger. As president, he constantly criticises CNN on Twitter and in public appearances.” He noted reports in the New York Times “that Trump aides discussed using the pending deal as a powerful form of leverage over CNN”.

In the same week the DOJ’s special counsel Robert Mueller has brought charges against a number of people associated with Trump’s 2016 election campaign, as part of his investigation into alleged Russian collusion in the campaign.

On Friday AT&T said it now hoped that the deal would be completed by the end of 2017, but the politics of the DOJ may still get in the way.