MARCH 4, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Trump reportedly directed his former economic adviser, Gary Cohn, to pressure the Justice Department to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, according to a report in The New Yorker.
In an explosive new investigation into the relationship between the Trump White House and Fox News, the magazine reported new details that contradict the administration’s assurances that Trump had no role in the Justice Department’s lawsuit trying to stop the merger.
Citing an unidentified “well-informed source,” The New Yorker reported that in summer 2017, months before the Justice Department filed its antitrust lawsuit, Trump called Cohn and then-chief of staff John Kelly into the Oval Office and told them that he wanted to “make sure” the Justice Department’s lawsuit seeking to block the merger was filed.
“I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened!” Trump told Kelly, according to the report. “I’ve mentioned it 50 times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”
Trump repeatedly criticized the $85 billion deal on the campaign trail and as president, vowing to block the merger and saying that it was “not good for the country.”
But, according to The New Yorker, many saw Trump’s opposition to the deal as motivated by his disdain for CNN, which is owned by Time Warner. But the Justice Department has insisted that the president’s unhappiness with CNN, which he often targets in tweets and at rallies as “fake news,” did not influence the case.
After Trump’s direction in the 2017 meeting, The New Yorker reported, Cohn refused to follow the instruction, knowing that it would be “highly improper” for Trump to involve himself in stopping the merger.
“Don’t you f—ing dare call the Justice Department,” he reportedly told Kelly. “We are not going to do business that way.”
A spokesperson for Cohn declined to comment to The New Yorker, and Kelly did not respond to request for comment.
A former White House official who was not named in the report told The New Yorker that Trump often “vented” in “frustration” about the AT&T-Time Warner deal and his desire to block it.
“The President does not understand the nuances of antitrust law or policy,” the former official said. “But he wanted to bring down the hammer.”
A federal judge ruled against the Justice Department last June, allowing the merger to go forward. The Trump administration appealed the decision, but a federal appeals court last month upheld the lower court’s decision.
The anecdote about Trump’s instruction to Cohn appears in The New Yorker’s report as an example of how the Trump administration’s actions have been “pro-Fox.”
The New Yorker reported that Trump’s effort to have Cohn push to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, in addition to the administration’s approval of the Disney-Fox merger and opposition to the Sinclair-Tribune merger, would all have benefited the Murdoch family and Fox News.
The Hill has reached out to 21st Century Fox and the Department of Justice for comment.
Courtesy/Source: The Hill