The U.S. Justice Department has asked a judge to prevent AT&T from using political bias as a defense in the DOJ’s lawsuit to block the $85 billion AT&T-Time Warner merger.
The DOJ has also asked Judge Richard Leon to not honor AT&T’s request for documents showing communication between the White House and the DOJ. AT&T wants those documents to be reviewed for any perceived bias on the part of the Trump administration.
The DOJ made its requests during a pretrial hearing last week. The trial is set to begin March 19.
“There was no selective enforcement,” Justice Department lawyer Craig Conrath said according to Reuters. “The president is unhappy with CNN. We don’t dispute that. But AT&T wants to turn that into a get-out-jail-free card for their illegal merger.”
Conrath also said that if the DOJ is forced to conduct a broad search for the documents requested by AT&T, it could delay the trial further. Last year, AT&T moved the merger deadline to June 21, 2018, after both AT&T and Time Warner waived their rights to terminate the deal by the previous deadline set for April 22, 2018. Prior to the April deadline, the deadline had been set for Oct. 22, 2017.
Last week, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told a crowd during a Boston College speaking engagement that Trump’s and CNN’s rocky relationship is an “elephant in the room” heading into the trial. He also called it a suspicious coincidence that DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim, who was appointed by Trump, said the merger did not pose antitrust concerns before taking the position with the DOJ and initiating the lawsuit.
“Mr. Delrahim was then hired into the White House after President Trump was put in office, to work as his counsel for a few months, and then was nominated to run the antitrust division, was confirmed and came out after his confirmation and promptly filed suit to block the deal,” said Stephenson, according to the Boston Herald.
AT&T has added Delrahim to its list of potential witnesses that could be called to the stand during trial.