The Department of Justice is suing AT&T in an attempt to thwart its $85 billion merger with Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.Federal prosecutors said Monday that the merger of the two companies would harm American consumers by paving the way for higher prices and that AT&T would use the deal as a “weapon to harm competition.” But critics question the veracity of the antitrust claims, not just because legal action on this type of deal is unprecedented but also because the president has repeatedly and publicly bashed CNN.
Randall Stephenson, the chief executive of AT&T, has categorically rejected the possibility of selling CNN, according to the Financial Times.“This merger would greatly harm American consumers,”said Makan Delrahim, who leads the DOJ’s antitrust division. “It would mean higher monthly television bills and fewer of the new, emerging innovative options that consumers are beginning to enjoy.”AT&T’s general counsel David McAtee II called the DOJ’s lawsuit “radical and inexplicable departure from decades of antitrust precedent,” adding that the last time the DOJ tried a vertical merger case was during the Carter administration — and it lost.“Vertical mergers like this one are routinely approved because they benefit consumers without removing any competitor from the market,”McAtee said. “We see no legitimate reason for our merger to be treated differently.”President Trump has repeatedly called CNN “Fake News,” and even refused to answer CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s question at a press briefing in January when Trump was the then-President-elect. The Department of Justice earlier this month said Time Warner would have to sell CNN or DirecTV if AT&T wanted the takeover approved.Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut made the connection more directly.“I remain appalled by President Trump’s attempts to weaponize antitrust law because he disagrees with CNN’s coverage,” Blumenthal wrote on Twitter, “and I’ll continue to oppose any improper influence by White House and any attempts by the administration to chill freedom of speech.”
Time Warner shares fell 1.1 percent on Monday after the news broke.