AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: DOJ Antitrust Suit ‘Defies Logic and Is Unprecedented’

Telecom chief also says he didn’t know if CNN played a role in antitrust decision

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AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson struck a defiant tone in a Monday afternoon press call, saying he was “troubled” by the Justice Department’s plans to file an antitrust suit seeking to block AT&T’s $85 billion merger with Time Warner, and that the government’s decision “defies logic.”

“We’re surprised to be here and candidly I’m a bit troubled by it,” Stephenson said at the start of the call. “[Time Warner CEO] Jeff Bewkes and I entered into this deal with clear legal precedent.”

Stephenson said “the best legal minds in the country” agreed the deal, announced last October, would go through “because our companies don’t compete with each other.”

“This defies logic and is unprecedented,” Stephenson said. “I’ve done a lot of deals in my career but I’ve never done one which I’ve disagreed with the Department of Justice on so many facts.”

Stephenson also mounted a defense of CNN, saying that AT&T was not interested in any solution that would call into question CNN’s First Amendment-guaranteed journalistic independence. However, he did not discount the possibility that the network — which the president has repeatedly blasted as “fake news” — could have played a role in the antitrust decision.

“There’s been a lot of reporting and speculation whether this is all about CNN,” he said. “And frankly I don’t know. Nobody should be surprised the question keeps coming up.”

“Any agreement that results in us forfeiting control of CNN, whether directly or indirectly, is a non-starter,” Stephenson added.

After Stephenson spoke, AT&T outside counsel Daniel Petrocelli played a tape of antitrust chief Makan Delrahim, who is heading the government’s review, appearing on business news before his appointment saying that while the size of the deal is sure to attract attention, “I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem.”

Petrocelli said the company is ready to go on trial and will ask the court for the earliest possible date, possibly as early as 60 days. Stephenson said AT&T intends to win, and there’s no thought about cutting losses. He added that the DOJ’s decision throws other mergers into uncertainty and can have a “freezing effect on commerce in general.”

“We do not intend to settle this matter out of simple expediency,” Stephenson said. “Because the rule of law is an issue here.”