AT&T Is Said to Seek Antitrust Chief as Witness, NYT Reports

Signage is displayed outside of an AT&T Inc. store.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

AT&T Inc. is asking to add the head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division to its witness list as it prepares for a trial due next month over the government’s decision to block its $85 billion deal to buy Time Warner Inc., the New York Times reported.

The phone giant is seeking to have Makan Delrahim, who took over the antitrust division in September, as a witness in a trial set to start March 19, the newspaper said, citing two people with knowledge of pretrial actions. AT&T has also asked for internal communications between Delrahim’s office and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Times reported, citing two unidentified people.

The government’s case has sparked speculation that President Donald Trump may have interfered, and AT&T could be seeking to show that the suit is politically motivated. Time Warner’s CNN has been a target of Trump’s Twitter attacks against what he calls “fake news.” On the campaign trail, he said his administration wouldn’t approve an AT&T-Time Warner marriage because that would put “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

If approved, the deal would reshape the media landscape by uniting a telecom giant with the owner of CNN, Warner Bros., TNT, TBS and HBO. AT&T, the owner of DirecTV, is the largest pay-TV distributor, as well as a powerhouse in mobile phones and landlines. The Justice Department has argued that letting AT&T own the films and TV shows that flow down its pipes would harm consumers and competitors.

Delrahim has pushed for a sale of either Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting division, which owns cable channels including CNN, TNT and Turner Sports, or DirecTV, the satellite provider AT&T bought in 2015.

Government lawsuits against deals that don’t involve direct competitors are almost unheard of. The last such case litigated to conclusion was a 1979 suit involving truck trailers and wheels, which the government lost.

While the president appoints officials to the Justice Department, antitrust authorities are required to decide cases without interference from the White House.

The case is U.S. v. AT&T Inc., 17-cv-2511, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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