AT&T Not Entitled To White House Communications About Time Warner Merger

AT&T is not entitled to examine records of communications between the White House and the Attorney General regarding the company's proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The ruling comes four weeks before AT&T and the Department of Justice are slated to face off at trial over whether the proposed deal violates antitrust law. The federal authorities sued in November to block the merger, arguing that it will decrease competition and result in higher prices for consumers.

In preparation for trial, AT&T sought records of some White House communications about the merger. The telecom argued last week to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in the District of Columbia that the records could help show whether the company was unfairly singled out for antitrust enforcement, due to President Donald Trump's dislike of CNN's news coverage.

Leon rejected that request. He ruled that the telecom hasn't presented enough evidence of its claims that the government's lawsuit was the result of "selective enforcement" of the antitrust laws.

"Defendants have not made a 'credible showing' that they have been 'especially singled out' by plaintiff," Leon wrote.

He also rejected AT&T's argument that the government's decision to allow a comparable merger -- Comcast's 2011 acquisition of NBC -- showed that the authorities unfairly targeted AT&T and Time Warner.

Leon noted that the government filed an enforcement action regarding the Comcast-NBC merger. He added that although the government allowed Comcast to purchase NBC with conditions, the authorities had legitimate reasons to do so -- including that the Federal Communications Commission retained oversight of the companies.

"Defendants' attempt to use the Comast-NBCU transaction as the basis for their selective enforcement claim is therefore unavailing," he wrote.

The advocacy group Public Knowledge, which opposes the merger, praised Leon's decision. "This ruling demonstrates that the court refuses to be distracted by politics and instead is focused on the facts and the law," Public Knowledge President and CEO Gene Kimmelman stated. "This is a great result for consumers worried about the danger of higher prices and harm to online competition likely to result from this merger."

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