The White House may be interfering in an AT&T and Time Warner deal for political gain

The White House may be interfering in an AT&T and Time Warner deal for political gain
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Every administration, both Democratic and Republican, has been politicized. This inappropriate interference by federal government officials into all manners of business, taxes and other matters is disturbing and at times illegal.

But the level of politicization of the Trump White House seems to be unprecedented, at least since Richard Nixon resided at 1600 Pennsylvania. Today, we worry about the political influence of the White House in national security matters, and even into a deal to punish media adversaries and reward Administration allies like the owner of the Fox News Channel.

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Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of this politicization has been the President and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency — a White House appointee — who both downplay Russia’s interference in the last Presidential election.

 

Many of the nation’s top intelligence experts believe Russia interfered. Despite this, President Trump recently stated that Putin has denied the accusations to him: “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it... I think he's very insulted, if you want to know the truth.”

While no threat to this nation’s security, another potential and serious example of political interference by this White House, was the recent announcement by the Department of Justice. In order for AT&T to secure antitrust approval from the government to merge with Time Warner, AT&T would have to either sell DirectTV or Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN — the cable news network repeatedly attacked by the president for its unfavorable coverage of his administration.

There can be no doubt that this current White House has a strong dislike of CNN. In fact, just this week, the president Tweeted: “While in the Philippines I was forced to watch @CNN, which I have not done in months, and again realized how bad, and FAKE, it is…Loser!”

 While publicly attacking CNN is beneath the dignity of the president, and a challenge to the First Amendment rights of a free press, it alone does not demonstrate that the Department of Justice and the White House were acting out of bounds on the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner.

However, earlier this year, the New York Times in fact reported the White House was considering using the merger as leverage against CNN, a political foe of the administration.

Another possible indicator of the Department of Justice’s true intention, is that Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of Twenty-First Century Fox, which owns the Fox News Channel — the cable network the President has repeatedly expressed fondness for  — has repeatedly phoned AT&T Chief Executive to inquire about purchasing CNN.

Could the Department of Justice be blocking the merger in order to create a business opportunity for Rupert Murdoch, a political ally of the White House? If Murdoch were to own CNN, would the channel’s relentless criticism of the White House be curtailed?

These are both legitimate questions and I am grateful that several Democratic Senators are looking into potential irregularities by the Department of Justice regarding this potential merger.

One more reason to question if the Department of Justice may be acting out of political ambitions, and not sincere antitrust concerns about the potential AT&T and Time Warner merger, is that before Makan Delrahim, the current head of the antitrust division of the Department of Justice, took that job, he stated publicly that he predicted the merger between the two media giants would be approved, saying, “I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem.” What has prompted Delrahim to change his mind on the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner?

The inspector general of the Department of Justice needs to look into this matter to determine what is going on. The merger between AT&T and Time Warner may or may not be a good deal for the American people.

However, there is a possibility that the White House and the Department of Justice may have acted out of political payback against CNN and to potentially help their ally Rupert Murdoch acquire the cable network. In the interest of justice and transparency, an investigative unit of the federal government must get to the bottom of this matter immediately.

Silvestre Reyes represented Texas’s 16th Congressional District from 1997 – 2013 and served as Chairman of the House Intelligence and Oversight Committee in the 110th and 111th Congresses.