Justice Department Could Launch Challenge of AT&T-Time Warner Merger Amid Renewed Interest in Trust-Busting

(Photo: Mike Mozart; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Mike Mozart; Edited: LW / TO)

Federal regulators are considering taking action to stop the acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T.

The Justice Department and AT&T aren’t close to an agreement on conditions for the merger, according to a report Thursday morning in The Wall Street Journal. Antitrust Division lawyers are subsequently weighing a lawsuit to block the deal.

The telecoms giant wants to purchase Time Warner as a content source for its mobile phone customers. Time Warner — owner of CNN, HBO, and TBS — wants to maximize viewership, as Bloomberg noted.

Announced in October 2016, the proposed merger was supposed to be a done deal by the end of the year, according to prior statements made by AT&T executives. Time Warner’s stock price dropped roughly $6 per share immediately after the Wall Street Journal published its story.

Antitrust enforcement has become a hot button issue in Washington since last year’s presidential campaign revealed widespread distrust of the country’s super-rich.

President Trump, for example, reacted to the AT&T-Time Warner merger proposal by vowing to stop it as a candidate: “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” On Wednesday, a likely 2020 presidential contender, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), asked federal regulators to look into “the rising tide of corporate concentration and its impact on labor markets and wages.”

Booker urged the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department to consider “firms’ power over the price of labor” when reviewing mergers, his office said in a press release.

While economic statistics show that median earnings last year finally surpassed pre-2008 levels, the accumulation of any savings since the Great Depression remains elusive for the vast majority of Americans.

Federal Reserve data shows that, between 2007-2016, wealth stagnated or decreased for 80 percent of all households — and for 98 percent of black and latinx households, according to the People’s Policy Project.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee also took up the issue of antitrust by unanimously advancing legislation offering new whistleblower protections.

The bill was cosponsored by committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), formerly the top Democrat on the panel. It passed the Senate in the previous two sessions of Congress, advancing through the upper chamber last year by unanimous consent.

“The House did not bring it up,” Leahy noted, calling on leaders in the lower chamber to consider the legislation this time around.

Grassley and Leahy’s bill would offer specific safeguards for whistleblowers who shed light on criminal antitrust violations.

“In 2011, the Government Accountability Office issued a report recommending Congress consider adding a civil remedy for antitrust whistleblowers who have been subjected to retaliation,” Grassley explained. “And that’s what this bill does.”

Before Thursday’s vote, a number of Democrats added themselves as cosponsors of the bill. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), vice chair of the Senate judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, was among them.

“As you know, we’re seeing more and more mergers,” Klobuchar told Grassley, thanking him for helping introduce the bill.