November 13, 2017

Feinstein, Senators Work to Prevent Undue White House Interference with Justice Department Antitrust Enforcement Decisions

Washington - Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee joined seven senate colleagues to work to prevent undue interference by President Donald Trump with Department of Justice antitrust law enforcement activities. In light of Wednesday’s news reports that DOJ told AT&T and Time Warner they would need to divest CNN as a condition of completing the merger, the senators  stressed that political interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable and called on Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim to respond to the questions about interactions between the White House and DOJ regarding the proposed AT&T and Time Warner transaction, most of which were submitted four months ago.

“We write to urge Department of Justice to oppose any attempt by the White House to interfere with antitrust law enforcement decisions, particularly for political reasons. Several of us raised this concern four months ago after the New York Times reported that White House advisers ‘discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary [CNN], a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner and AT&T,’” the senators wrote. “We asked whether these reported discussions occurred and if they did, whether they complied with existing law. We also stressed that the content of CNN’s press coverage had no place in antitrust enforcement. To date, we have received no answers from either the Department of Justice or the White House in response to our questions.”

In addition to Feinstein, the letter to Assistant Attorney General Delrahim was signed by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.),  Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

In a July letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Klobuchar requested information on contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice regarding the pending merger between AT&T and Time Warner, the parent company of CNN. In February, Klobuchar outlined antitrust issues on the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner, Inc. to Attorney General Sessions and highlighted three considerations the Department should take into account when evaluating the proposed transaction. During an Antitrust Subcommittee hearing last year, Klobuchar examined the acquisition’s effect on independent content providers, possible harm for consumers, and the effectiveness of conditions that would remedy concerns over the merger. 

The full text of the letters are below: 

Dear Assistant Attorney General Delrahim:

We write to urge the Department of Justice to oppose any attempt by the White House to interfere with antitrust law enforcement decisions, particularly for political reasons. 

Several of us raised this concern four months ago, after the New York Times reported that White House advisers “discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary [CNN], a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner and AT&T.” We asked whether these reported discussions occurred and if they did, whether they complied with existing law. We also stressed that the content of CNN’s press coverage had no place in antitrust enforcement. 

To date, we have received no answer from either the Department of Justice or the White House in response to our questions. 

These outstanding questions are especially concerning in light of Wednesday’s news reports. Multiple news sources have reported that the Department told the parties that they would need to divest CNN as a condition of completing the merger. Politico reported a source saying, “The only reason you would divest CNN would be to kowtow to the president because he doesn’t like the coverage.” 

We have raised different questions and concerns about the impact of AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner, Inc., but we all agree that the transaction should be judged solely onthe basis of whether it would violate federal antitrust law. The President’s views about the content of CNN’s press coverage have no place in antitrust law enforcement. 

Should the Antitrust Division determine that AT&T’s acquisition of CNN – as well as other Time Warner properties – raises antitrust concerns, Department enforcement action may be warranted. But political considerations based on the content of CNN’s news coverage should never impact the Department’s decision-making.  

Political interference in antitrust law enforcement is unacceptable. We hope that you share our views about the importance of maintaining the professionalism and independence of the antitrust enforcement agencies.

We respectfully request responses to the following questions, some of which we submitted four months ago:

  • Has any employee of the White House or adviser to the President (either official or unofficial) had any contact with any Department of Justice employee regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction?
  • Has any employee of the White House or adviser to the President (either official or unofficial) had any contact with any Department of Justice employee regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction in connection with CNN? If so, please detail those interactions.
  • If these interactions occurred, did those interactions comply with existing Department or other Executive Branch policies?
  • Will you commit to notifying the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Antitrust Subcommittee, should any such contacts occur?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request. 

Sincerely,

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