The $85 billion merger of AT&T and Time Warner was cleared by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., today in a landmark antitrust ruling that went against the U.S. government’s Department of Justice. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon denied the DOJ’s argument that such a merger would place much power in the hands of one corporation, and could result in higher prices to consumers.
Leon, in his remarks during the ruling, strongly urged the government not seek a stay that would hold up the close of the deal. But DOJ lawyers today already were hinting that they are keeping their options open.
After the ruling, Makan Delrahim, the U.S. Assistant Attorney General of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, rushed past reporters outside the courtroom. He said, “I have taken an oath to uphold competition” as he walked toward the elevator. “We are going to review the opinion and take the next steps as necessary.”
Later, Delrahim made a more official statement released by the DOJ:
“We are disappointed in the court’s decision today. We continue to believe that the pay TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner. We will closely review the court’s opinion and consider next steps in light of our commitment to preserving competition for the benefit of American consumers.”
Earlier in the day, Delrahim vigorously defended the legal grounds for the DOJ’s lawsuit.
“The irony in that case is rich,” he said of the months-long battle over the deal, during which his role and the White House’s perspective came under scrutiny. Speaking at a forum hosted by the non-partisan Open Markets Institute, he said, “The career staff put together a straightforward consumer welfare analysis that showed that merger would unlawfully raise prices for cable TV subscribers and harm online innovation. … The harms of that transaction, following a consumer welfare rubric, were simply too great to accept, or try to fix with ineffective behavioral remedies.”
Critics of the decision to sue have pointed to the abrupt timing of the action, which came a couple of months after Delrahim was appointed by President Donald Trump, a staunch foe of CNN and a vocal critic of the deal. During his academic career, Delrahim had made comments advocating approval of the merger.
Defense lawyers during the trial were barred from exploring the possibility of a Trump/anti-CNN motive.