AT&T chief denies Justice Department asked for CNN sale

Gwen Vasquez
November 10, 2017

AT&T chief financial officer John Stephens told a conference in NY "there are all kinds of benefits" to the combination and noted that the government has not blocked this kind of vertical tie-up in decades.

Discussions of individual assets, including the division that includes CNN, have come up in conversations between the companies and Justice Department officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The deal is valued at $85 billion and had been expected to close by the end of the year. AT&T also could use Time Warner's video to support its wireless business.

Regulators are looking at questions such as whether AT&T could raise prices for Time Warner content for other companies - higher costs that could eventually trickle down to consumers.

The Justice Department is declining to comment about the merger.

"We are in active discussions with the (Justice Department)".

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, in an on-stage interview in NY, said he had no reason to believe a "Trump factor" was influencing or interfering in the review.

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"The Department of Justice, in particular, has an obligation to ensure "equal justice under law". Negotiations between the companies and the Department of Justice have turned so contentious that now both sides are arguing publicly over what the dispute is even about. The Justice Department would have to argue that AT&T would have an incentive to withhold Turner channels like CNN or its National Basketball Association on TNT from rival broadband distributors like Verizon or Comcast. Television empire and DC Enterntainment (a vehicle for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and other superheroes), along with HBO, Cinemax and the array of Turner Broadcasting properties: TNT, TBS, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, HLN and CNN.

Trump assailed the merger on the campaign trail, saying the tie-up would concentrate media power.

Senator 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.

Reports say there was a crucial meeting on Monday between AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and DOJ's antitrust chief Makan Delrahim during which the two discussed divestitures that might satisfy the government's concerns.

"The President did not speak with the Attorney General about this matter, and no White House official was authorized to speak with the Department of Justice on this matter", Shah said in an emailed statement late Wednesday.

But the idea of a suit to block the merger has clearly raised concerns for Time Warner and specifically CNN, which is owned by the company.

Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups have been ringing alarm bells about the potential for political interference in what's supposed to be an independent antitrust review of the deal.

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