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President Donald Trump reiterated his distaste for the AT&T-Time Warner merger a day after the Justice Department announced it was suing to block the $85 billion deal.
“I’m not going to get involved in litigation, but personally I’ve always felt that was a deal that’s not good for the country," Trump said, speaking to reporters outside the White House on Tuesday. "Your pricing is going to go up. I don't think it's a good deal for the country. But I’m not going to get involved. It is litigation.”
The comment is likely to fuel concerns of a connection between Trump’s opinion of Time Warner's CNN, whose coverage he frequently blasts as "fake news," and the actions of the Justice Department, which argued in its lawsuit that the merger would "greatly harm American consumers."
According to the department, the deal would lead to higher bills for customers if AT&T raises prices on companies that want to carry Time Warner channels, like CNN and HBO. Those other distribution companies would then most likely pass on the higher costs to consumers, the lawsuit suggests.
The Justice Department also said the merger threatens competition in the pay-TV market, since AT&T owns a mobile phone unit, a satellite TV company and DirectTV Now, an online TV service. Department officials told NBC News this month that they had offered the phone giant the opportunity to divest a major asset in return for receiving approval.
A Justice Department official said Monday that the White House had played no role in the agency’s decision and that the president's comments about CNN were not a factor. The economic analysis of the deal, the official said, did not include the actual content of such networks like CNN.
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AT&T, meanwhile, vowed to fight the suit in court. The company's chief executive, Randall Stephenson, held a news conference Monday immediately after receiving the Justice Department lawsuit to argue the company's case.
"I do want to address the elephant in the room here: There has been a lot of reporting and speculation about whether this is all about CNN. And frankly, I don't know," he said. "But nobody should be surprised that the question keeps coming up because we have witnessed such a change in the application of antitrust law here.
“Any agreement that results in us forfeiting control of CNN whether directly or indirectly is a nonstarter,” he added.
Stephenson has portrayed the merger as pro-consumer, talking up benefits like internet-delivered TV packages. As for Trump, his comments Tuesday on the corporate tie-up are consistent with his attacks on the 2016 campaign trail.
Candidate Trump promised that his administration “would never approve such a deal because it concentrates too much power in the hands of the too and powerful few.”