President Donald Trump ordered one of his top advisers to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger last year, The New Yorker reported on Monday, citing a well-informed source.
In the late summer of 2017, Trump asked Gary Cohn, then Trump's chief economic adviser, to pressure the Justice Department to file a lawsuit to block a planned $85 billion merger between the two companies, according to the magazine.
“I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened!" Trump reportedly fumed to Cohn and White House chief of staff John Kelly during an Oval Office meeting. "I’ve mentioned it 50 times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”
As they walked out of the meeting, Cohn reportedly told Kelly not to call the Justice Department, saying, "We are not going to do business that way," according to the source.
A source who spoke to NBC News, and asked not to be identified, confirmed that Cohn told the source that there was pressure from Trump to block the merger.
The news of Trump's involvement in the merger was part of a longer article by Jane Mayer documenting the unusually close relationship between Trump and Fox News.
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A spokesperson for Cohn declined to comment to The New Yorker, and Kelly did not respond to the magazine's inquiries. A former White House official confirmed to the magazine that Trump often “vented” in “frustration” about wanting to block the merger. NBC News has reached out to the White House for comment. AT&T declined to comment on the article.
Trump's reported order is at odds with his public comments at the time. In November 2017, just after the DOJ filed suit, Trump publicly stated his distaste for the merger, saying that although he'd “always felt that was a deal that’s not good for the country” he was “not going to get involved, it is litigation."
At the time, the comments fueled concerns of a connection between the Justice Department's lawsuit and his opinion of Time Warner's CNN, whose coverage he has decried as "fake news.”
It's not clear whether Trump's order affected the Justice Department's decision. In its lawsuit, the Justice Department argued that the merger would result in higher bills for consumers, and department officials said the White House had played no role in the agency’s decision and that the president's comments about CNN were not a consideration.
In June 2018, a federal judge ruled that the merger does not pose a danger to consumers and could proceed. Last week, an appeals court also upheld the merger.
The New Yorker noted that while the Trump administration opposed the AT&T-Time Warner deal, it approved another major media merger last summer — Disney's nearly $71.3 billion acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News.
The New Yorker also reported that as the 2016 presidential campaign was coming to an end, a Fox News reporter, Diana Falzone, uncovered the details of the hush-money payment that Trump's former longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to porn star Stormy Daniels, who alleges an affair with Trump in 2006 — an allegation Trump has repeatedly denied. The magazine reported that Fox News executives decided not to publish the story.
Falzone told the magazine that Ken LaCorte, who was then head of FoxNews.com, said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.”
LaCorte denied to the magazine that he told Falzone to drop the story, but a colleague of hers confirmed hearing her account at the time. LaCorte previously told Mediaite that he made the decision without going to his superiors, saying the draft of the article lacked the reporting needed to publish it.
"I was the person who made the call,” he said. “I didn’t run it upstairs to Roger Ailes or others. It was an easy call to make as a senior editor there. That’s what I did. I didn’t do it to protect Donald Trump. Even though we had a story written, it was nowhere near being something that would have passed muster.”
The Wall Street Journal ultimately broke the story a year after Trump became president.
Falzone was later demoted without explanation, according to The New Yorker. She then sued and reportedly reached an undisclosed settlement with the network.
Bill Shine, who currently serves as the White House’s communications director, was a Fox News executive at the time.