21 February 2018
| Alan Burkitt-Gray
AT&T has failed in a court attempt to bring President Donald Trump into its $85 billion battle to buy the media company Time Warner.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) – which opposes
the takeover – is bringing the case to court and the
trial is expected to start on 19 March.
In pre-trial hearings both sides are saying who they want to
appear as witnesses and what evidence can be called in support
of their cases.
AT&T said it wanted the DoJ to reveal details of
communications between the Trump White House and lawyers in the
DoJ. But a federal judge said no to the telecoms company in a
Trump has publicly criticised the merger, which was first
proposed in late 2016, a few weeks before his election victory.
AT&T hoped that the communications would show that politics
rather than competition law was playing a role in the
Time Warner owns CNN, the news channel that has been the target
of much of Trump’s midnight tweeting. A lawyer for
the DoJ accepted last week that "the president is unhappy with
CNN", but added, according to Reuters, "AT&T wants to turn
that into a get-out-of-jail-free card for their illegal
Time Warner owns a large number of channels, including HBO, the
Cartoon Network, Turner Sports and Cinemax as well as the
Warner Bros movie studio. The DoJ is concerned that, by owning
so much content, AT&T will have a competitive advantage
over other delivery systems, and that Time Warner will have
preferential access compared with other content
But AT&T is hoping that it will be able to bring forward
other evidence about the government’s motivation.
It is planning to call Makan Delrahim, the anti-trust chief in
the DoJ, as a witness. Delrahim denies receiving White House
instructions about the takeover bid.
This is believed to be the first time ever that a party in a
takeover has called as a witness the government official who
called the legal action.
The government wants the chiefs of both AT&T and Time
Warner – Randall Stephenson and Jeffrey Bewkes
respectively – to appear as witnesses.
AT&T originally hoped the takeover would take only a year
from the 2016 announcement to complete. Now, if it wins,
completion date is stretching into the second half of