The Justice Department on Monday filed an antitrust lawsuit in an attempt to block AT&T‘s takeover of Time Warner, calling the merger harmful to Americans.
The $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner has been scrutinized as a large consolidation of media. The deal took an unexpected turn when President Donald Trump was elected after vowing to block the deal on the campaign trail while criticizing CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.
The DOJ’s decision to oppose the media merger adds fuel to speculation that the Trump administration is meddling in Justice Department decisions in an attempt to enact retribution against CNN.
Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department’s Antitrust Division said in a statement that the “unlawful” deal would “greatly harm American consumers” by ensuring higher prices for television service.
“This merger would greatly harm American consumers. It would mean higher monthly television bills and fewer of the new, emerging innovative options that consumers are beginning to enjoy,” Delrahimsaid. “AT&T/DirecTV’s combination with Time Warner is unlawful, and absent an adequate remedy that would fully prevent the harms this merger would cause, the only appropriate action for the Department of Justice is to seek an injunction from a federal judge blocking the entire transaction.”
The deal would give AT&T a large portfolio of media properties, including CNN, HBO, Warner Bros., and other networks.
AT&T is preparing for a legal challenge of the deal, CNN reports, and could see the legal battle be resolved within a few months.
Reports earlier this month indicated that the Justice Department had demanded that AT&T sell CNN as part of a condition for approval, drawing questions as to whether Trump’s personal feelings toward the news network were influencing the Justice Department’s handling of the merger. Both the White House and Justice Department denied politics were part of its review of the deal.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to answer a question about the deal’s review last week, citing a Justice Department policy of not revealing such conversations.
Trump’s repeated attacks on CNN could be used as evidence in any trial, CNN reports.
The deal has been criticized by smaller television networks and some consumer groups on the grounds that it would give AT&T too large of a footprint in the media ecosystem, according to Reuters.
Update 4:58pm CT, Nov. 20: The DOJ has confirmed its lawsuit against AT&T.
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