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Report: Trump asked Gary Cohn to block AT&T-Time Warner merger

Posted at 10:41 AM, Mar 04, 2019

A new report about the close relationship between Fox News and President Donald Trump says the President personally asked a top White House aide to make sure the Justice Department stopped AT&T from purchasing Time Warner.

Ever since the Justice Department sued in 2017 to block AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner, theories and accusations of political animus has swirled around the antitrust case.

At the heart of the theories is Trump's public dislike of CNN, which was a division of Time Warner. The company that has since been renamed WarnerMedia, which also includes networks such TNT and HBO, in addition to CNN.

In a new piece for the New Yorker , investigative journalist Jane Mayer reports that a few months before the Justice Department filed its lawsuit, Trump pressured Gary Cohn, the former director of the National Economic Council, to tell the Justice Department to block AT&T's Time Warner deal.

According to Mayer's source, Trump called Cohn and then Chief-of-Staff John Kelly into his office and said to Kelly, "I've been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing's happened! I've mentioned it fifty times. And nothing's happened. I want to make sure it's filed. I want that deal blocked."

After the two men walked out of the Oval Office meeting, Cohn told Kelly not to follow through with the president's request, according to Mayer's report.

Trump's animosity towards the merger is no secret. Trump repeatedly talked about wanting to block it on the campaign trail and in office. A 2016 campaign press release cited by AT&T during the appeals trial state that "AT&T ... is now trying to buy Time Warner and thus the wildly anti-Trump CNN. Donald Trump would never approve such a deal."

Cohn, the White House and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to request for comment. The Justice Department has long denied that politics played a role in their decision to bring the suit.

While the Justice Department fought to block the AT&T deal, another mega media merger passed through regulatory approval: Disney's purchase of 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Trump's favorite television channel Fox News.

The chairman of 21st Century Fox is of course, Rupert Murdoch, who has become the president's close confidant.

Mayer noted in her report that "under Trump the government has consistently furthered Murdoch's business interests, to the detriment of his rivals," including the approval of Disney's purchase of Fox, a deal in which the Murdoch family will make more than two billion dollars.

While Trump openly criticized the AT&T-Time Warner deal, he publicly congratulated Murdoch for selling most of 21st Century Fox to Disney even before the deal had received regulatory approval.

Ultimately AT&T and Time Warner won twice in its legal battle against the Justice Department, in the first trial and in an appeal, and completed the transaction.