AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was among the AT&T executives who arrived at Trump Tower this morning for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump.
According to Bloomberg, the meeting was being held to discuss AT&T's proposed $85 billion bid to acquire Time Warner Inc.
While on the campaign trail, Trump proclaimed that he would block the deal because he felt it placed too much market power with one company. Recent reports have indicated that Trump still opposes the deal.
It’s unclear if Trump’s personal feelings are having any impact on his negative perception of the proposed merger. But the meeting comes after Trump’s press conference on Wednesday, which prominently featured an argument between Trump and a CNN reporter in which Trump referred to CNN as “fake news.”
Considering CNN is an important Time Warner brand, today’s meeting could be construed as damage control. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Trump tweeted harsh criticism of CNN shortly after the AT&T execs arrived at Trump Tower.
.@CNN is in a total meltdown with their FAKE NEWS because their ratings are tanking since election and their credibility will soon be gone!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2017
As the Bloomberg report points out, it would be uncharacteristic for a president to get directly involved in a deal like the proposed merger, which is to be reviewed by federal agencies.
Of course, any proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner would first have to pass muster with the Justice Department’s antitrust review. However, there are still questions about whether the deal would also need an FCC public interest review.
As far as AT&T is concerned, leapfrogging the FCC review may be a possibility.
According to an SEC filing, AT&T is anticipating that Time Warner won’t have to transfer any of its FCC licenses following the completion of the acquisition, although the company notes that its conclusion is subject to change.
The FCC licenses in question, which cover Time Warner businesses including HBO and CNN, cannot be transferred to AT&T without the FCC’s consent. By AT&T signaling that no license transfer will have to take place, it indicated that the companies can bypass the FCC’s public interest review altogether. That would mean the companies need only the Justice Department’s nod of approval to clear regulatory reviews.