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DOJ: Trump’s dislike of CNN didn’t bias AT&T-Time Warner merger
The Justice Department (DOJ) on Friday acknowledged that while President Trump doesn't like CNN, his unhappiness with the media outlet did not influence a federal antitrust case.
"The president is unhappy with CNN. We don't dispute that," Justice Department lawyer Craig Conrath said at a pretrial hearing on Friday, Reuters reported. "But AT&T wants to turn that into a get-out-jail-free card for their illegal merger."
CNN's parent company Time Warner and telecommunications giant AT&T are fighting the government's decision to block a $85 billion merger.
In November, conflicting reports suggested AT&T and Time Warner were being asked to sell CNN as part of their proposed merger, in order to avoid monopoly regulations. Speculation that Trump sought to influence negotiations by zeroing in on CNN hammered the ongoing talks between the government and the companies.
The White House and Makan Delrahim, the DOJ's antitrust chief, denied that the administration took a position in the merger review.
However, the DOJ ultimately sued to block the AT&T-Time Warner deal under antitrust law.
Now, AT&T wants to use Trump's comments opposing the merger as proof of political bias in their defense of the deal.
Trump vowed on the campaign trail last year to block the merger because "it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few."
AT&T is seeking access through the court to communications regarding the merger between the DOJ and the White House.
"If there is something in those documents, it's important for us," AT&T and Time Warner's lawyer Daniel Petrocelli said at the pretrial hearing, Reuters reported.
The DOJ is trying to prevent the political argument from becoming part of the case.
"There was no selective enforcement," Conrath maintained Friday.
He also argued that CNN is not key to the government's opposition of the deal.
"We want to leave CNN right where it is, doing just what it is doing," Conrath said, according to CNN. "CNN does not matter."
Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia plans to rule Tuesday on the issue, which is part of the larger case looking at whether the merger would raise prices.