AT&T’s request for the U.S. Justice Department to disclose any communication between the White House and government officials — possibly highlighting President Trump’s distaste for its pending $85 billion merger with Time Warner — was denied by a federal judge on Tuesday.
It’s a blow for AT&T and Time Warner, as U.S. District Judge Richard Leon shot down their claim the DoJ’s lawsuit “reflects improper selective enforcement of the antitrust laws.” The vertical merger has been in legal purgatory since November, with President Trump’s public abhorrence for CNN — a member of the Time Warner family — pointed to as a reason for the Justice Department’s intervention.
AT&T and Time Warner had argued they were singled out by the DoJ, and sought written correspondence of “untoward” communication between the Antitrust Division and Attorney General’s Office that showed “the White House[‘s] views as expressed about the merger.” Judge Leon ruled the companies had come up “far short” of meeting a legal precedent to view any communication.
Last Friday, the Justice Department moved to stop AT&T from claiming the president’s politics played a roll in the DoJ’s lawsuit. Dan Petrocelli, lead counsel for AT&T and Time Warner, had moved on the same day for access to the “privilege log” between the DoJ, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the White House.
The deal between AT&T, which owns DirecTV, and TV and film studio Time Warner has been held up since the DoJ filed a lawsuit last fall, arguing the merger would lead to higher prices and less options for customers. AT&T-Time Warner have claimed similar vertical mergers have had little issue moving through the Justice Department in the last 40 years.
The trial is set for March 19.