DOJ asking states to help block AT&T-Time Warner merger: report

DOJ asking states to help block AT&T-Time Warner merger: report
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The Justice Department has made overtures to state attorneys general to build support for blocking AT&T's $85.4 billion deal to purchase Time Warner Inc., according to a Wednesday report. 

A source "briefed on the matter" told Reuters that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had approached 18 states. It was not clear which states' officials had been reached out to.

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A report from financial news network CNBC said the DOJ had failed to convince any state attorneys general to sign on to a potential lawsuit to block the merger. An earlier CNBC report had claimed two states were on board with a lawsuit.

The merger, which would combine telecommunications giant AT&T with entertainment titan Time Warner Inc., grabbed front page headlines last week after reports that the DOJ demanded the sale of Turner Broadcasting as a prerequisite for approving the deal.

Turner Broadcasting includes CNN, the cable news network that has been a target of President Trump.

Sources at the DOJ told The Hill and other outlets last week that regulators rejected AT&T's offer to divest CNN.

But AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson later denied that the demand had ever been made, and said he would never entertain the idea. 

Trump has regularly attacked CNN as biased against his administration and as "fake news," including on Wednesday morning after he returned from a 12-day Asia trip.

The president has not appeared on the network since a telephone interview with anchor Anderson Cooper in August 2016. 

The conflicting reports about the merger negotiations with the DOJ have sparked new scrutiny over whether there was political interference from the White House.

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE on Tuesday sidestepped questions before the House Judiciary Committee on whether he had discussed the pending deal with anyone at the White House.

“I’m not able to comment on conversations or communications that Department of Justice top people have with top people at the White House,” he told lawmakers.

Democrats have also called for hearings to examine any potential political interference.

Time Warner has a deep portfolio of television networks, including CNN, HBO, TBS, TNT, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, NBA TV and Cartoon Network, among other online properties such as Bleacher Report. The company also owns the Warner Bros. film studio.

AT&T, which would be a major conduit of Time Warner content if the deal were approved, purchased satellite television service DirecTV for $48.5 billion in 2015.

"I feel very confident the deal gets done," Stephenson said earlier this year.

"This is a vertical merger. The competitive environment in telecommunications does not change after this closes. The competitive environment in the media entertainment business does not change," he added. 

The Justice Department potentially could file a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the merger via its Antitrust Division. 

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.