In light of new reports that the Trump Administration may be inappropriately evaluating the AT&T-Time Warner merger in an attempt to punish CNN for critical coverage, Protect Democracy today filed suit against the Department of Justice for documents related to the merger, including communications with the White House an internally within DOJ.
In July, 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. That FOIA request received no response, and Protect Democracy is now suing to force them to comply.
Protect Democracy Executive Director Ian Bassin stated:
“The President’s attacks on a free press are growing more authoritarian by the day. The machinery of government should never be used to silence or punish the President’s critics or reward allies, and even just the appearance that this may be happening is in itself chilling. If we care about democracy, the President’s assaults on the press must end.”
Since our founding, 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.
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.