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Is the Justice Department trying to force a sale of CNN?

10 November 2017

Unidentified sources told media outlets the Justice Department is pushing AT&T to offload certain assets for sale for the deal to be approved.

"CNN is a meaningful part of the [Time Warner] portfolio", Portell said, "but it is hard to see how it overlaps with AT&T's profile in a way that equates ownership to anti-competitive potential". US President Donald Trump, a frequent critic of CNN, attacked the deal on the campaign trail past year, vowing that as president his Justice Department would block it.

The sort of blackmail that Trump is trying to pull is a clear abuse of presidential power. When approving Comcast's similar acquisition of NBC Universal, under the Obama administration, the DOJ and FCC imposed several conditions on Comcast's business practices to prevent Comcast from withholding content from rivals.

The conflicting views highlight just how far apart the two sides are in getting a deal done and the risk that talks could hit an impasse.

Legal experts say the department would have a hard time defending any decision to block the merger over its demand to spin off Turner.

Last year, AT&T and Time Warner set a target for closing the deal by October 2017.

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The Department of Justice said it does not comment on pending investigations, but that it was "committed to carrying out its duties in accordance with the laws and the facts".

News has also corroborated the report about the DOJ official's allegations against AT&T, CNBC reported. The timing of the deal, originally expected to close by the end of the year, is now uncertain, AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens said Wednesday.

Time Warner shares fell 6.3 percent at 2:54 p.m.to $88.68, compared with the $107.50 offer price. Trump voiced his opposition to the AT&T-Time Warner deal while campaigning for the White House, calling the deal "too much concentration of power" between Time Warner's media assets (which also include HBO and Warner Bros. movie studios) and AT&T's huge wireless and broadband distribution network. Delrahim told senators during his confirmation process that politics has no role in antitrust reviews.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the matter. Until now negotiations with the companies had focused on conduct remedies, according to one of the people.

It is normal for parties in a merger to be encouraged by the Justice Department to come up with their own ways to alleviate antitrust concerns that a deal might lessen competition or hurt consumers.

Is the Justice Department trying to force a sale of CNN?