AT&T chief ready for court battle if Justice Dept blocks $85bn Time Warner deal

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has denied the Department of Justice has asked him to divest CNN in order to complete the telco’s takeover of Time Warner, but claims he is willing to go to court if the DoJ does try to force a split.

Reports from the US claimed the DoJ wants AT&T to sell off news network CNN as a condition of its $85 billion takeover of CNN-parent Time Warner.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is reviewing the proposal, led by Makan Delrahim, the former Patton Boggs lawyer who was confirmed as assistant attorney general for the anti-trust division in September. 

According to numerous leaks in the US, he is concerned that a merger will hurt competition and may file a lawsuit if his anti-trust concerns are left unsolved.

Speaking at the Dealbook conference, Stephenson said he has “never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN”.

“Likewise, I have never offered to sell CNN,” he added. “There is absolutely no intention that we would ever sell CNN, so take those two off the table.”

It comes as reports in the US linked the potential delay to President Donald Trump’s open dislike of CNN’s news coverage. Trump has repeatedly accused CNN of promoting “fake news”, even labelling the network FNN or the “Fake News Network” in some tweets.

Stephenson said he had “no reason to believe” that Trump’s feelings towards CNN was impacting the DoJ’s decision about the merger, which was announced last year with a deadline of 22 April 2018 – Stephenson’s birthday.

Reports claim another option for AT&T would be to sell off DirecTV, though Stephenson declined to comment on details of the telco’s negotiations with the DoJ, only saying they are at an “advanced” stage.

The DoJ could still issue legal proceedings against AT&T over antitrust concerns around the consolidation of power that a merger would bring. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the Justice Department will sue, and Stephenson said he was willing to fight the agreement in court.

"We're prepared to litigate now," Stephenson explained, saying that AT&T would seek an expedited hearing in that case. 

"This is a classic vertical merger. There are no overlaps of competition. There are no competitors being taken out of this market.”

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