In another seeming flareup of his chronic foot-in-mouth disease, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Friday told the Huffington Post that the president “denied the merger” sought by AT&T and Time-Warner. Then, on Saturday, the White House told CNN that Giuliani got it wrong, and that the Department of Justice alone blocked the deal.
Trump has long been a vocal opponent of the AT&T-Time Warner merger, apparently in part because of his antipathy for Time Warner-owned CNN, which he has labeled “fake news” for its negative coverage of him. There are longstanding concerns that he would try to compromise the Justice Department’s independence as it evaluated the proposed merger.
Giuliani seemed oblivious to those concerns when he told HuffPost on Friday that “the president denied the merger. They didn’t get the result they wanted.”
Giuliani’s comments were aimed at shielding the president from a related scandal — a wave of revelations that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer/fixer, had accepted millions of dollars in consulting fees that may have been aimed at gaining influence with the president.
At least some of those payments were made to the same shell company that Cohen used to pay $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels as part of a deal to block her from discussing an alleged affair with Trump.
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Those included $600,000 from AT&T, payments that the company has since said were “a big mistake.” According to sources speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the executive who oversaw the payments to Cohen has been forced out as a result.
The payments are a big problem for the president, who promised during his campaign to fight influence peddling. Giuliani told HuffPost that “the president had no knowledge of” those big payments to Cohen, and further that Cohen never discussed his clients, also including drugmaker Novartis, with the President. “Whatever lobbying was done didn’t reach the president,” Giuliani also said. “He did drain the swamp.”
But this morning, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders told CNN that Giuliani got Trump’s role in the decision wrong, saying “the Department of Justice denied the deal.” The DOJ’s antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, has sworn under oath that there was no political influence on his decision to block the deal — even though he has reversed his position publicly.
Some outside analysis, moreover, suggests the deal should have been approved. That’s in large part because of the technological changes fueling cord-cutting among TV consumers, which threatens to undermine traditional cable television, and which the merger was intended to respond to. Time Warner’s CEO has called the case against the merger “ridiculous.”
Considering how little Giuliani seems to know about what his client does, he may have simply misspoken — or less generously, made something up — in the process of attempting to defend Trump. But his comments are serious fodder for the president’s critics, who have plenty of reason to believe that his personal grudge against the media led him to meddle with a deal worth $85.4 billion.
Update 5/13/2018: Giuliani retracted his Friday comments in a conversation with ABC News late Saturday, saying the president “did not interfere with the Justice Department going ahead with the case, which he had every right and power to do, and other presidents have done in anti-trust cases.”