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 HollenDemocrats introduce bill to rein in Trump's power under Insurrection Act Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues 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 TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE asked DOJ lawyers to sue to block the deal.

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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 CohnFormer national economic council director: I agree with 50 percent of House Democrats' HEROES Act Sunday shows preview: Congress spars over next round of coronavirus relief; GOP seeks offensive after news of Flynn 'unmasking' The Memo: Speculation grows about Fauci's future 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 KlobucharHillicon Valley: Conspiracy theories run rampant online amid Floyd protests | First lawsuit filed against Trump social media order | Snapchat to no longer promote Trump's account Derek Chauvin charge upgraded to second-degree murder; other officers charged Democratic lawmakers push leadership to ensure college students have internet access 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 NadlerHouse Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on police brutality next week House Judiciary to hear whistleblowers on 'politicization' of Justice Dept under Trump House Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineDemocrats call for special prosecutor to investigate clearing of protesters outside White House The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Johns Hopkins's Jennifer Nuzzo says America needs public health crisis insurance to pay for COVID-19 victims; Protests, pandemic continue to ravage America Trump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy 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.