DOJ wants AT&T to sell CNN before Time Warner merger

The Department of Justice wants AT&T to unload CNN before it can complete its $84.5 billion acquisition of Time Warner, according to a report Wednesday.

Selling off the cable news network that President Trump constantly derides as “fake news” is one of the demands being made by the U.S. antitrust authority before it signs off on a deal that could reshape the landscape of both the media and telecom industries.

AT&T announced its intention to buy Time Warner, which owns HBO, CNN and Warner Bros. Studios, last year.

The CNN sale is just one of the demands being made by the DOJ, according to the Financial Times. The agency told AT&T it could either sell Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN, or DirectTV. The newspaper cited three individuals “with direct knowledge” of the discussions.

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“It’s all about CNN,” one person with direct knowledge of the talks between the company and the DOJ told the paper, adding that the regulator made it clear to AT&T that if it sold CNN the deal would go through.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump said he opposed the merger, citing his displeasure with CNN as part of his reasoning, and vowed that the Justice Department would block it.

AT&T opposes offloading CNN and plans to take the Trump administration to court if it moves to block the deal.


AT&T announced its intention to buy Time Warner, which owns HBO, CNN and Warner Bros. Studios, last year.

(Steven Senne/AP)

But a Justice Department official told CNN Wednesday that AT&T had offered to sell the network off to help the sale go through — which the company flatly denied.

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“Until now, we’ve never commented on our discussions with the DOJ,” AT&T executive Randall Stephenson said in a statement to CNBC. “But given DOJ’s statement this afternoon, it’s important to set the record straight. Throughout this process, I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so.”

White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told the New York Times, “The President did not speak with the Attorney General about this matter, and no White House official was authorized to speak with the Department of Justice on this matter.”

Opponents of the deal contend that as a provider AT&T could withhold Time Warner content from rivals or gain unfair leverage in carriage negotiations.

Outspoken Trump critic and former George W. Bush White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter sees something more sinister — especially if Trump or the White House weighed in on the deal with DOJ.

“Use of antitrust enforcement power to punish CNN for exercise of First Amendment rights is an impeachable offense,” he tweeted.

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