Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday revealed that White House counsel Don McGahn called him about the merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media last month as the deal was imploding due to opposition from regulators.
Pai made the revelation during an oversight hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, saying that McGahn had been making a “status inquiry” and was not expressing a view about the transaction.
President TrumpDonald TrumpJury in Jussie Smollett trial begins deliberations Pence says he'll 'evaluate' any requests from Jan. 6 panel Biden's drug overdose strategy pushes treatment for some, prison for others MORE has been a staunch defender of Sinclair and the broadcast giant has promoted the administration's talking points through "must-run" editorials distributed to its television stations around the country.
Pai has denied that the White House interfered in the proceeding.
The FCC chairman said the call came around July 16 or 17, right after he had announced that he “serious concerns” about the merger and would be referring it to an administrative law judge, a move that ultimately doomed the $3.9 billion deal.
Tribune pulled out of the merger last week and sued Sinclair for breach of contract, alleging that the company torpedoed the deal's chances of securing regulatory approval in part by pushing a handful of shady side deals to regulators.
A week after the reported call, Trump lashed out at the FCC for rejecting the merger involving the right-leaning Sinclair.
“So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” the president wrote in the tweet. “This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!”
The White House did not immediately respond when asked for comment. Pai, a Republican, declined to comment further on the call after the hearing.
After Pai's July announcement, the FCC voted unanimously to subject the merger to further scrutiny through the administrative law proceeding, accusing Sinclair of misleading them about certain transactions related to the deal.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked Pai to provide the Senate Commerce Committee with a description of the call from McGahn.
Updated at 2:36 p.m.