Justice Department warns AT&T its bid for Time Warner needs changes


AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said in a statement he has never offered to sell CNN and does not have any intention of doing so.

Pedestrians walk by the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle on October 23, 2016 in New York City after AT&T and Time Warner announced a $85 billion merger. "I cannot comment on those discussions", Chief Financial Officer John Stephens told a conference in NY.

But on Wednesday morning, AT&T said the timing of the deal's closing is now "uncertain".

"That clip could be used by any attorney, by AT&T, to say, 'Hey, look, you can see what was in his mind even before he was president of the United States, even before he knew what the merger looked look".

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A senior White House official told ABC News the Justice Department is "the only ones making the decisions here", adding, "we are not involved". Negotiations between the companies and the Department of Justice have turned so contentious that now both sides are arguing publicly over what the dispute is even about. In a separate statement, DOJ's new antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, said he has "never been instructed by the White House on this or any other transaction under review by the antitrust division".

Shares of AT&T climbed 1.15 per cent on Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange, while Time Warner tumbled 6.51 per cent. Delrahim voiced tentative support for the deal prior to his nomination, but is said to be looking at it more closely now that he is in office.

A CNN sale reportedly is at the heart of pressure the DOJ is putting on AT&T in order for its blockbuster deal to merge with Time Warner to win federal approval.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized CNN as fake news on his social media Twitter account in the past year.Tweet LinkThe company previously said it expected the deal to close by the end of 2017.When asked about the deal earlier Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Media and Telecom Conference in New York, AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens said:"We are in active discussions with the [Department of Justice]".

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At least modest progress is hoped for, although there are no immediate signs of a major breakthrough, a US official said earlier on Thursday.

Requiring AT&T to sell either Turner or DirecTV would be in line with Delrahim's thinking. "Beyond that, the department does not comment on any pending investigation". He noted that the government has not blocked a "vertical" deal in more than 40 years.

In 2011, the Obama administration approved Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal.

"We may be on a collision course to litigation unless something changes", said Gene Kimmelman, a former antitrust official and the president of Public Knowledge, a consumer group. As a candidate, Donald Trump vowed to block the deal because it concentrated too much "power in the hands of too few". He said the company has "very good" prospects of winning in court against the Justice Department.

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