Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a letter Friday whether any White House employee or adviser to the president had contacted the Department of Justice regarding the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner.
Klobuchar’s request follows reports this week that administration officials have considered interfering in the $85 billion merger over President Donald Trump’s frustration with CNN, a Time Warner subsidiary, and the news network’s president, Jeff Zucker.
The New York Times reported Wednesday night that White House officials viewed the AT&T-Time Warner deal as “a potential point of leverage” over CNN. The Daily Caller reported Thursday the White House wouldn’t support the deal unless Zucker was let go in the process. And Politico also reported Thursday that chief White House strategist Steve Bannon had “pushed the idea of blocking the merger.”
AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner has been expected to be approved by the Department of Justice, which enforces antitrust violations, and reportedly could be completed within 60 days. Some analysts have voiced skepticism that the the merger could be rejected simply due to the president’s animus toward CNN given that the Department of Justice would be expected to defend its decision on legal grounds.
Regardless of whether Trump officials follow through with any plans to disrupt the deal, the notion they’ve discussed punishing companies over critical coverage, or see the proposed deal as leverage in battling a news organization, is alarming.
A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment on the letter.
Klobuchar, like several of her Democratic Senate colleagues, has expressed concerns that the merger could be bad for consumers and previously urged Sessions to closely scrutinize the companies’ plans.
But Klobuchar, who serves as ranking member of the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee, wrote that “any political interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable.”
“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,” she wrote. “Such an action would violate the First Amendment.”
Read Klobuchar’s letter below:
Dear Attorney General Sessions:
As Ranking Member of the Antitrust Subcommittee, I am writing to urge the Department of Justice to oppose any attempt by White House advisers to interfere with antitrust enforcement decisions, particularly for political reasons.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that “White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary [CNN], a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner and AT&T.” This report is deeply troubling. I hope you agree that the President or his advisers’ concerns about the content of CNN’s press coverage have no place in antitrust enforcement.
Although I have raised serious questions about the impact of AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner, Inc., the transaction should be judged solely on its impact on competition, innovation, and consumers, not as “leverage” for political gain.
Any political interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable. 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. Such an action would violate the First Amendment.
I am committed to maintaining the professionalism and independence of the antitrust enforcement agencies. I appreciate that you also expressed support for these goals. As you responded to one of my questions during your nomination and confirmation process, “there will not be political influence” in antitrust enforcement decisions.
In light of the report today, I respectfully request responses to the following questions.
· 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?
· If so, did those interactions comply with existing policies?
· Will you commit to notifying the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Antitrust Subcommittee, should any such contacts occur?
Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.