Dem senator asks DOJ to probe White House efforts on AT&T-Time Warner merger

Dem senator asks DOJ to probe White House efforts on AT&T-Time Warner merger
© Stefani Reynolds

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move to Kansas City Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens MORE (D-Md.) on Friday asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate possible attempts by the White House to block the recent $85 billion AT&T-Time Warner merger.

Van Hollen's letter comes after The New Yorker this week reported that President TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE asked DOJ lawyers to sue to block the deal.

ADVERTISEMENT

Multiple lawmakers and Democratic figures have suggested that Trump sought to block the deal because of his longtime feud with CNN, a channel owned by Time Warner and acquired by AT&T during the merger.

“I request that you open an investigation into whether White House aides and officials have improperly tried to influence DOJ regulators in order to meet the objectives of President Trump," Van Hollen wrote in his letter to Attorney General William Barr.

The New Yorker reported that Trump ordered Gary CohnGary David CohnPress: Acosta, latest to walk the plank 'I alone can fix it,' Trump said, but has he? The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Iran with new sanctions MORE, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the DOJ to intervene against the merger.

Trump reportedly told his former chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE in 2017 that he had asked then-White House chief economic adviser Cohn to "get this lawsuit filed," lamenting that "nothing" had happened.

"I’ve mentioned it fifty times," Trump told Kelly, according to The New Yorker. "And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”

Van Hollen on Friday called on the DOJ to investigate whether Trump or other White House officials had encouraged the DOJ to oppose the merger. He also asked the DOJ to probe whether the White House had inquired about the Disney/FOX merger, which was approved last year, or any other mergers.

"The President of the United States should not use his office to direct the DOJ to punish those who he perceives to be his adversaries or to reward his friends," Van Hollen wrote. "This investigation and subsequent report should be made public to the American people to reassure them of the executive branch’s integrity and your agency’s independence.”

The DOJ did sue to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, but lost in court and on appeal earlier this year. The court's decision to uphold the merger was seen as a significant loss for the DOJ's antitrust division.  

Democratic Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Democratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage MORE (Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) on Friday separately pressed the DOJ over the White House's reported influence on the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

"The efforts of the Justice Department enforcers who brought a difficult but worthwhile case in the face of criticism are worthy of praise, but now many are wondering why they were allowed to bring the case in the first place," the lawmakers wrote. "The notion that federal law enforcement is a tool to serve the political and personal interests of our leaders is corrosive to our society and system of government. The public should be able to trust that antitrust enforcement — in fact all federal law enforcement — is impartial and free of political influence." 

Klobuchar and Blumenthal asked the DOJ to answer a range of questions about whether Trump or his associates attempted to exert influence over the merger, or if AT&T made any payments in an effort to sway the White House over the transaction.

Democratic lawmakers in the House have also weighed in following The New Yorker report, questioning whether Trump sought to intervene out of spite for CNN, which he has accused of being biased against his administration. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWhy are we permitting federal child abuse at our border? Trump knocks Mueller after deal struck for him to testify House Democrats request briefing on Epstein, Acosta MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineTwo Democrats vow to press forward on Trump impeachment Democratic lawmaker calls asylum, refugee programs 'crown jewel' of immigration system House Democrat: Mueller testimony will help people 'understand the gravity' of Trump's conduct MORE (D-R.I.) this week requested documents regarding the AT&T-Time Warner merger. 

"Any effort to use the antitrust laws to censor, undermine or retaliate against the press is a threat to the First Amendment and a vibrant democracy," Nadler and Cicilline wrote.

—Updated at 4:49 p.m.