Senator Concerned That Trump-CNN Clash Could Doom AT&T-Time Warner Deal

Randall Stephenson Jeffrey Bewkes - H - 2016

In recent media reports, the idea has been floated that the White House could use the merger to pressure CNN.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is concerned about recent media reports suggesting that the White House might try to put pressure on CNN by using as leverage the impending merger of AT&T and Time Warner.

In a letter to attorney general Jeff Sessions on Friday, Klobuchar, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, conveyed strongly that "the transaction should be judged solely on its impact on competition, innovation, and consumers," and should not be used as "leverage for political gain," an idea that was floated in a Wednesday story in The New York Times.

"White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary, a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T," the Times' Michael Grynbaum wrote. On Thursday, citing "a source familiar with President Trump's thinking," the Trump-friendly Daily Caller wrote that "the White House does not support the pending merger between CNN’s parent company Time Warner and AT&T if Jeff Zucker remains president of CNN."

The Sessions-led Justice Department is currently reviewing the proposed merger, and is still widely expected to approve it. But, because CNN has emerged as a major thorn in the side of the Trump administration, there is some speculation that political maneuverings could be used to hold up the deal, potentially to extract concessions.

On June 28, the New York Post reported that CNN head honcho Jeff Zucker could be a casualty of the merger, though that remains merely speculation at this point.

"Any political interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable," Klobuchar wrote in the letter, which was first reported by The Huffington Post. "Even more concerning, in this instance, is that it appears that some advisers to the President may believe that it is appropriate for the government to use its law enforcement authority to alter or censor the press."

Klobuchar, in the letter, asked Sessions: "Has any employee of the White House or adviser to the President (either official or unofficial) had any contact with any Department of Justice employee regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction?" She noted, however, that Sessions had previously said in a hearing that politics will not impact the merger review.

Were the merger to be used as leverage by the administration, it would seemingly set a worrying precedent about the politicization of business transactions that are supposed to be judged solely on competitive and consumer-focused concerns.