Court says no to AT&T’s requests for Trump records in $85bn merger battle
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 hearing yesterday.
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 DoJ’s action.
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 merger”.
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 providers.
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 2018.
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