DOJ Antitrust FOIA Request on AT&T - Time Warner Merger
On November 1st, Protect Democracy sent a FOIA request for information concerning potential improper interference by the White House or other political appointees in the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger.
Since we formed, Protect Democracy has expressed concern about improper White House interference in agency enforcement matters, which both the President and his staff have repeatedly and blatantly engaged in. As our memo on agency contacts explained, rules against this behavior have been in place in every White House since Watergate.
We have been especially concerned about antitrust enforcement as a form of inappropriate leverage to pursue political agendas. These concerns arose early in this Administration during the discussions of the Anthem-Cigna merger and the drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act, where reports suggested there had been improper conversations between President Trump and Anthem connecting the two. We wrote the DOJ Inspector General requesting an investigation.
After former FBI Director James Comey reported that the Attorney General and other high-ranking Justice Department officials were failing to take appropriate steps to police these restrictions, we asked the Inspector General to take further action.
In this vein, we have been concerned about independent consideration of the AT&T-Time Warner merger, especially in light of the President’s repeated attacks on CNN, one of Time Warner’s properties. The American people deserve to know how the DOJ is making decisions evaluating this merger. Even if there was not explicit improper political interference in the merger review process behind the scenes, the fact that the President has repeatedly publicly attacked a media entity who has critical regulatory interests pending before him, and even reportedly threatened the prospect of denying this merger to retaliate against CNN for its coverage of him, has created a massive problem. Regardless of whether there was additional improper interference, there is a strong appearance of a conflict that will have a chilling effect on any media outlet with regulatory interests before the federal government, which is to say almost every media outlet in the United States. The President’s threats to abuse the merger process also unfairly and dangerously damage the credibility of the career professionals at DOJ who are charged with doing this important work, and forces the American public to doubt the integrity of any work coming out of the Department of Justice.