Nov. 10--AT&T is gearing up for a potential legal battle with the government over the company's planned takeover of Time Warner now that the U.S. Justice Department is reportedly pressuring the company to sell CNN.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson stressed yesterday that his company has no intention of selling CNN as part of the deal, a comment that came just one day after news broke that the U.S. Justice Department is pressuring AT&T to sell CNN as a requirement for the proposed $85 billion deal to be approved.
"Since the day we've announced this, we've been preparing to litigate this deal," Stephenson said. "And we have been working very diligently on a litigation strategy and a litigation ... If we get to a place, we'll have to ask ourselves: Is a negotiated settlement a better or worse outcome than if we litigate? If we feel like litigation is a better outcome -- then we will litigate."
On reports that the Justice Department wants AT&T to divest Time Warner'sTurner Broadcasting unit -- which includes CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies -- Stephenson said: "I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN. Period. And likewise, I have never offered to sell CNN."
He added: "I don't even know who in the DOJ is saying these things."
The company is believed to be facing a choice of selling Turner Broadcasting or divesting its satellite television unit, DirecTV. But such a choice most likely would undermine the point of the deal, which was to combine content, wireless service and TV distribution.
Stephenson defended the deal against its critics, including President Trump, who has publicly blasted CNN for its coverage of his administration.
"This is a classic vertical merger," Stephenson said. "There are no overlaps of competition; there are no competitors being taken out of this market."
The new roadblock over CNN could significantly delay or even upend AT&T's planned takeover of Time Warner, which was announced last year and had been expected to close by the end of this year.
AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens surprised investors Wednesday when he revealed the company was in talks with the Justice Department and that "the timing of the closing of the deal is now uncertain."
AT&T and Time Warner now have an April 22 deadline for their agreement to close.
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