AT&T is insisting that a meeting today between President-elect Donald Trump and AT&T executives, including CEO Randall Stephenson, didn’t include discussion of AT&T’s proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner Inc.
In a statement, AT&T claimed that the meeting was about how AT&T and the Trump administration can stimulate the economy.
“Mr. Stephenson had a very good meeting with President-elect Trump earlier today covering a wide range of topics. AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner was not a topic of discussion,” the statement read. “Rather, as the country’s leading investor of capital for each of the last five years, the conversation focused on how AT&T can work with the Trump administration to increase investment in the U.S., stimulate job creation in America, and make American companies more competitive globally.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Stephenson and Trump had long been planning the meeting.
Reports of Stephenson meeting with Trump to discuss the merger, which Trump has publically opposed, surfaced this morning. The timing of the meeting, coming one day after Trump and a CNN reporter argued during a press conference, seemed to indicate the sit down might have something to do cooling the apparent animosity between Trump and CNN.
Shortly after AT&T execs arrived this morning at Trump Tower, Trump tweeted some harsh criticism of CNN, claiming that the network, which is owned by Time Warner, is in “total meltdown with their fake news because their ratings are tanking since election and their credibility will soon be gone.”
Whether or not AT&T has to convince Trump of the benefits the merger will bring, the company and Time Warner still have to appease lawmakers and Federal agencies including the Justice Department, which will conduct an antitrust review of the proposed deal.
In December, Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes spoke before the Senate about the proposed merger and faced skepticism. In particular, Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) challenged the companies’ insistence that content from Time Warner brands like HBO would not be withheld from other service providers, an idea that Stephenson rebuked.
“The business model’s fundamental premise for attracting talent, for attracting investors to content, the fundamental premise of that is wide and broad distribution of their content,” he said of Time Warner. “While one could argue that it might advantage our distribution business to somehow give proprietary access to Time Warner, it would make no sense to a $100 billion business we’re acquiring to do that.”