Watch Live: AT&T, Time Warner Respond To DOJ Anti-Trust Lawsuit
Update (5:40 pm ET): In a statement, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson vowed to fight the DOJ’s lawsuit. He said AT&T’s challenge is about preserving the rule of law against an overreaching DOJ anti-trust division. He also said that, while he doesn’t know for sure if the opposition is political in nature, he’s not surprised that the question of whether this is a political vendetta keep coming up.
He also vowed that AT&T wouldn’t divest Turner Broadcasting and CNN, calling that “a nonstarter.”
“When the government suddenly discards decades of legal precedent, businesses large and small are left with no legal guidepost.”
“We have no intention of proposing a solution outside of the bounds of what the rule of law would require.”
“There’s been a lot of reporting and speculation whether this is all about CNN. But frankly I dont know. But nobody should be surprise that the question keeps coming up because we’ve witnessed such an abrupt change in the application of anti-trust law here.”
“Any agreement that results in us forfeiting control of CNN, whether directly or indirectly, is a nonstarter. We have no intention of backing down from the government’s lawsuit.”
A lawyer for AT&T also noted that Trump has been “critical” of CNN. The president of course has repeatedly accused the network of being “fake news.”
In response to a reporter’s question, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said he would push for the earliest possible court date, adding that the first hearings could begin in 60 days or less.
Watch the news conference live below:
* * *
Update (5:20 pm ET): According to Bloomberg, a Justice Dept official says the govt’s lawsuit to block AT&T’s planned $85.4b purchase of Time Warner wasn’t influenced by President Trump or anyone else in the White House.
Several media outlets, including Buzzfeed, have noted that some executives at the companies are viewing the stipulation as a political barb aimed directly at CNN, which President Donald Trump has frequently demonized as “fake news.”
“The pro-business, pro-commerce Republican administration objects to a vertical integration with 40 years of legal precedent,” said one executive familiar with the negotiations.
* * *
Update (4:50 pm ET): Court documents have confirmed that the DOJ is suing to block the AT&T-Time Warner deal, according to several US media organizations…
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) November 20, 2017
The DOJ has released a brief statement: “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,” said Makan Delrahim the head of the department’s antitrust division.
As Reuters pointed out, the legal challenge was expected after AT&T rejected a demand by the Justice Department earlier this month to divest its DirecTV unit or Turner Broadcasting.
AT&T and Time Warner are expected to make a joint statement around 5:30 pm ET…
* * *
Update (4:20 pm ET): David R. McAtee II, Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel at AT&T, has released a statement responding to reports DOJ plans to sue to block its purchase of Time Warner.
In the statement, McAtee says he’s “confident” the courts will side with AT&T..
“Today’s DOJ lawsuit is a radical and inexplicable departure from decades of antitrust precedent. Vertical mergers like this one are routinely approved because they benefit consumers without removing any competitor from the market. We see no legitimate reason for our merger to be treated differently.
“Our merger combines Time Warner’s content and talent with AT&T’s TV, wireless and broadband distribution platforms. The result will help make television more affordable, innovative, interactive and mobile. Fortunately, the Department of Justice doesn’t have the final say in this matter. Rather, it bears the burden of proving to the U.S. District Court that the transaction violates the law. We are confident that the Court will reject the Government’s claims and permit this merger under longstanding legal precedent.”
The DOJ Is expected to make a “major statement” about an anti-trust action within the hour. It’s been widely reported that the AT&T-Time Warner merger will be the subject of the statement.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson recently said he was never told that selling CNN would be a condition of getting the deal done. But he said that the company was prepared to fight in court to save the deal, if necessary, according to the Financial Times.
“Since the day we announced this we’ve been preparing to litigate this deal,” he said. “We are prepared to litigate now,” Stephenson said earlier this month at the NYT’s Dealbook conference.
* * *
Just minutes after the DOJ announced that it would be unveiling a major anti-trust action late Monday, Bloomberg reported that AT&T will be the target of said action (as Amazon sneaks by one more day). Late last year, AT&T announced that it had agreed to buy Time Warner in another controversial merger of content creators and distributors.
The news hammered shares of Time Warner, which dropped nearly 2% as investors realized that the White House is preparing to act on President Donald Trump’s campaign-season threat to block the $85.4 billion merger. Meanwhile, shares of AT&T climbed.
The reports are the culmination of more than a week of sparring over the deal and dealing a major blow to the carrier’s bid to create a media and telecommunications empire, Bloomberg reported. NBC also confirmed the news.
The challenge would derail a deal that had appeared to be sailing toward approval as recently as a month ago. That was before the new US antitrust chief Makan Delrahim took up his position and took over the investigation. During negotiations he pushed for the companies to sell the Turner broadcasting unit or DirecTV, a request that AT&T rejected. Last week, reports emerged that the DOJ had asked Time Warner to sell its Turner Broadcasting unit, which includes cable news network CNN. Later, the DOJ said AT&T and Time Warner had offered to sell CNN if that would cause DOJ to drop its opposition to the deal.