AT&T clashes with Justice Department over Time Warner asset sales

Gerry Smith, Scott Moritz, David McLaughlin and Sara Forden, Bloomberg News on

Published in Business News

It's not clear if AT&T would be willing to part with anything it's acquiring from Time Warner. The company has said it considers CNN a prize asset, and the company also considers properties such as the Warner Bros. studio, HBO, TNT and TBS essential, people familiar with the matter said.

Stephenson wants to pair all the programming those divisions produce with advertising and other services to create new sources of revenue.

Trump assailed the merger on the campaign trail, saying the tie-up would concentrate media power. That raised fears early in the process that Trump would interfere in the review. Delrahim told senators during his confirmation process that politics has no role in antitrust reviews.

Before he was nominated by Trump, Delrahim had briefly delved into the AT&T-Time Warner deal in a television interview, telling Canada's BNN in October 2016 that "from a technical standpoint, I think these folks would have an easier route toward approval than a merger of two competitors," he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who delayed Delrahim's confirmation for weeks, asked the antitrust chief last month to recuse himself from the review because of those comments. In a Nov. 6 letter obtained by Bloomberg, the Justice Department said Delrahim "had no professional or personal connection with, or any nonpublic information about, the proposed merger then," and noted he told BNN there could be other antitrust issues. Ethics officials reviewed the interview and determined recusal isn't required, the department told Warren.

Delrahim's arrival at the Justice Department slowed down the merger review as he got up to speed, people familiar with the matter said last week. He's looking for ways to remedy the competitive issues posed by the combination of AT&T's vast communications network and Time Warner's media empire.

Delrahim took over the review after months of investigation by the staff attorneys and economists at the antitrust division. Until now negotiations with the companies had focused on conduct remedies, according to one of the people.


On Wednesday, Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, tweeted that the burden is on the Justice Department to show there has been no political interference in the antitrust division and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should be open about any communications with the White House on the deal.

On the other hand, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, praised the Justice Department for working to uphold competition and protecting CNN's independence. "The Justice Department appears to be doing its job," he said in a statement.

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