AT&T has come out swinging in the U.S. Justice Department’s case against its proposed $85 billion Time Warner merger, but the company appears to have given up on trying to use President Trump’s perceived bias as a defense.
In a pretrial brief filing, AT&T said that the DOJ’s initial argument about AT&T and Time Warner threatening to withhold Turner content from rival pay-TV providers no longer holds water thanks to the government’s economic expert refuting the theory. Specifically, AT&T notes that Turner would lose more than it would gain by holding its content back from other distributors.
“Now, what remains of the government’s case, ‘like a Persian cat with its fur shaved, is alarmingly pale and thin,’” AT&T wrote in the filing.
AT&T said the DOJ’s case is now based on the theory that Turner will now be more likely to drive harder bargains with rival distributors. But AT&T argues that Turner will not be able to tolerate withholding content from any distributors and that the merger is more about cost synergies that will result make AT&T and Time Warner more competitive.
Noticeably absent from AT&T’s brief is any mention of the White House or President Trump possibly influencing the DOJ’s lawsuit to block the merger. AT&T and Time Warner executives on many occasions have suggested that Trump’s general dislike for CNN, which is owned by Turner, could be at the center of the suit.
AT&T had planned on making that argument part of its defense – and had planned to call DOJ Antitrust chief Makan Delrahim to the stand – but the judge presiding over the case earlier this year blocked AT&T’s attempt to force the DOJ to produce communications between it and the White House.
The DOJ also released a pre-trial brief and New Street Research, after reviewing it along with AT&T’s, said it still favors AT&T winning the trial.
“As most of the arguments are in line with what we had thought would be argued, our overall view—that AT&T is likely to prevail—is unchanged. Nonetheless, we note that a significant amount of the evidence cited in the government brief is redacted, and thus, it is impossible to gauge with certainty the merits of the arguments based on that evidence,” wrote the firm in a research note.
The antitrust trial is set to begin March 19 and will likely last a few weeks.