AT&T, whose quest to merge with Time Warner into some kind of lurching telecommunications/content mega-hybrid has run afoul of the Department of Justice, won’t get to see any internal White House communications that preceded the DOJ’s legal intervention.
Per the Verge, AT&T and Time Warner requested the judge overseeing the DOJ’s anti-competition lawsuit against the merger give the two corporations access to the communications in order to determine whether there was any “selective enforcement.” In other words, the two companies wanted to see whether our infamously tempestuous president demanded the DOJ retaliate against Time Warner, which owns CNN, a news network he despises so obsessively he regularly tweets about it in terms approaching anthropomorphism—or perhaps whether staffers did so in an attempt to win over his favor.
According to the Verge, after the judge declined to let them peek at White House communiques, the two companies will likely continue to fight the DOJ antitrust suit in other ways:
In today’s decision, the judge on the case said the companies had fallen “far short” of the legal bar required to receive the documents.
At the time the lawsuit was first filed, a lawyer hired by AT&T said the companies were “not dependent” on showing that Trump intervened in the Justice Department’s decision. With today’s decision, they’ll likely have to look toward those other avenues in their defense.
Trump previously told reporters that the decision was made not by him, but a “very, very respected person,” DOJ anti-trust chief and Trump appointee Makan Delrahim. However, the New York Times noted at the time that Delrahim’s opposition to the deal came as somewhat of a surprise given that his “past comments have largely been in line with more free-market-oriented Republican views, and he was widely expected to be more lenient on mergers than predecessors in the Obama administration.”
As our sister site Splinter additionally noted, reports the DOJ would demand the combined company choose between selling CNN’s parent group Turner Broadcasting or the far more critical, $49 billion DirecTV network in order to score regulatory approval seemed not so much suspicious as blatantly obvious.
In any case, preventing AT&T and Time Warner from merging is actually a pretty good idea—the combined company would hold massive market power in telecommunications and mass media, right at the same time the leadership of the Federal Communications Commission does not seem particularly interested in restraining that kind of titan’s power to shake up consumers for loose change. That it might be being held up because the president wants to screw with CNN is not nearly as comforting, though.