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Jeff Sessions Refuses to Say if White House Asked About AT&T-Time Warner Merger

November 14, 2017

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday declined to answer when asked if any White House officials contacted the Justice Department to discuss the government’s review of AT&T’s proposed $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner.

“I am not able to comment on conversations or communications the Department of Justice top people have with top people at the White House,” Sessions said at a House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing.

President Donald Trump as a candidate had vowed to block the merger and has repeatedly criticized Time Warner’s CNN network.

Reuters reported that the Justice Department demanded last week that AT&T divest DirecTV or Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting unit in order to win approval of the deal.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson denied on Thursday that he had offered to sell CNN to win approval. “We’re prepared to litigate now” over the deal, he said at a forum.

The White House said in a statement last week that Trump did not talk to Sessions about the merger and “no White House official was authorized to speak with the Department of Justice on this matter.”

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway separately told CNN last week that the White House would not interfere with the merger review.

Trump has repeatedly heaped criticism on CNN and called the network “fake news.”

The U.S. Justice Department could file a lawsuit as early as this month to challenge the deal, sources told Reuters last week. AT&T is preparing to fight any lawsuit aggressively and would use Trump’s attacks on CNN as part of its legal case, the sources said.

The deal is opposed by an array of consumer groups and smaller television networks on grounds that it would give AT&T too much power over the content it would distribute to its wireless customers.

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The DirectTV or Turner Broadcasting concessions demanded by the Justice Department’s antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, suggest he changed his view of the merger since saying in a 2016 interview that the deal was not “a major antitrust problem.”

Government officials have denied the divestiture requests were because of CNN but rather were based on concerns AT&T could hike prices on rival content distributors and block innovations.