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Time Warner : Sen. Klobuchar, Senators Work to Prevent Undue White House Interference With Justice Department Antitrust Enforcement Decisions

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11/11/2017 | 02:47 pm

WASHINGTON, Nov. 11 -- The office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., issued the following news release:

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Ranking Member of the Antitrust Subcommittee, and a group of seven senators are working to prevent undue interference by President Donald Trump with Department of Justice antitrust law enforcement activities. Following a July New York Times report that White House advisers discussed using the pending merger between CNN's parent company Time Warner and AT&T as leverage against CNN, Klobuchar and a group of senators asked DOJ to clarify whether these discussions occurred and, if they did, whether they complied with existing law. To date, the senators have not received an answer from DOJ or the White House. 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 today stressed again that political interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable and called on the President and 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."

The senators continued, "These outstanding questions are especially concerning in light of yesterday'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...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."

In addition to Klobuchar, the letter to President Trump was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Al Franken (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI). The letter to Assistant Attorney General Delrahim was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

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,

Dear President Trump:

We write to express our strong opposition to 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 White House or the Department of Justice 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. Should the Antitrust Division determine that AT&T's acquisition of CNN - as well as other Time Warner properties - raises antitrust concerns, enforcement action by the Justice Department may be warranted. But political concerns about the content of CNN's press coverage have no place in antitrust law enforcement, and political interference in the enforcement of the antitrust laws is unacceptable.

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

* Have any White House or transition officials attempted to interfere with any ongoing antitrust investigation?

* Have any White House or transition officials discussed potential efforts to attempt to influence any pending or future antitrust enforcement action?

* Have any White House or transition officials discussed the pending AT&T-Time Warner transaction in connection with CNN? If so, please detail those interactions.

* Have any White House or transition officials discussed potential plans to use the pending AT&T-Time Warner transaction as a point of leverage over CNN? Will you pledge that White House officials will not undertake any such effort in the future?

* Will you commit that White House staff or officials will not negotiate any settlement of an antitrust investigation?

* The White House Counsel has set forth procedures for White House staff to follow in communications with Justice Department employees to prevent the very type of influence suggested in the New York Times article. 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? If so, did those interactions comply with existing 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,

This document was posted showing the date: Nov. 10, 2017.

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