You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Former DOJ Officials Ask for Inquiry Into Trump Interference in AT&T-Time Warner Case

UPDATED WASHINGTON — Nearly a dozen former Justice Department officials want the federal judge to allow an inquiry into potential White House interference in the government’s decision to try to block AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner, given President Donald Trump’s professed disdain for the deal and CNN.

The group of Justice Department veterans, including former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel John Dean, filed an amicus brief late on Thursday in which they said they were “concerned that the president and the White House may have interfered in this matter.”

They requested “that the court ensure that the parties are able to examine this issue — and if necessary, the court provide redress — so that the public retains confidence that the Department is fulfilling its mission of ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”

The Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against AT&T and Time Warner, filed in November, is set to go to trial on March 19.

The department’s Antitrust Division chief, Makan Delrahim, has denied that the White House influenced the decision to sue. A spokeswoman for the division declined comment.

When the DOJ-AT&T lawsuit was filed, White House spokesman Raj Shah said, “The president did not speak with the Attorney General about this matter, and no White House official was authorized to speak with the Department of Justice on this matter.”

AT&T-Time Warner, led by attorney Dan Petrocelli, last month sought access to “privilege logs,” or records e-mails and oral communications that they believe could shed light on the extent to which the White House was involved. Judge Richard Leon denied the request.

But the former Justice Department officials, in a filing organized by the Protect Democracy Project, argued that even the appearance of White House influence in the matter was a concern, writing that “the mere appearance of vindictiveness is constitutionally problematic.”

They said AT&T-Time Warner’s legal team could make a “prima facie” showing  “that the present action was brought with improper motive to retaliate against CNN.”

“The president repeatedly has declared his enmity for CNN and, as a result, declared that his administration would block the merger,” they wrote. “Those voluntary statements regarding the merger and expressing disagreement with CNN because of the content of its reporting should open the door to discovery to help determine whether the president’s political self-interest and potentially unconstitutional bias have infected the handling of this matter.”

They wrote that “if that limited discovery reveals White House communications or influence on this matter, then the Court should permit fuller discovery and inquiry into the issue at trial.”

“The gold standard for doing so would be proving that DOJ was already arriving at its position on this merger before any interference by the White House,” they wrote.

They also talked of potential remedies — depending on what is found. One would be to require that the Justice Department reconsider the case with a new team “that is more insulated from White House interference.”

One potential approach would be to require DOJ to reconsider this case with a new team that is more insulated from White House interference, or if the court finds “unlawful interference,” it could dismiss the lawsuit.

Others signing the amicus brief included a number of Justice Department officials who served during the Obama administration, as well as John McKay, who was U.S. Attorney for the western district of Washington from 2001 to 2007, during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Their brief is here.

Earlier this week, Project Democracy filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, seeking documents of any contact between the White House and the Justice Department related to the proposed merger of The Walt Disney Co. with much of 21st Century Fox. That deal was announced on Dec. 20.

Update: The Justice Department has filed a response.

“Given this court’s opinion on this issue, the proposed amicus curiae does not appear meaningfully to add to unresolved issues in the upcoming trial in the current case,” wrote Eric Welsh and Lawrence Reicher of the Antitrust Division.

“Finally, the United States notes the imminent trial and the court’s discretion as to whether movant’s brief and positions therein are ‘desirable,’ ‘relevant’ and ‘not adequately represented by a party.'”

More Politics

  • Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke

    Ryan Zinke to Resign as Interior Secretary

    WASHINGTON — Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will step down at the end of the year, amid a series of investigations that include conflict of interest. “Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years. Ryan [...]

  • Department of Justice

    DOJ: Gray TV-Raycom Media Merger Can Move Forward if Overlapping Stations Are Sold

    WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has given the go ahead to Gray Television’s $3.6 billion merger with Raycom Media on the condition that stations be sold in nine markets. The DOJ’s Antitrust Division said it had reached a settlement in which Gray would sell stations in the markets where they would otherwise own two or [...]

  • Mick Mulvaney Chief of Staff

    Mick Mulvaney Will Serve as Acting Chief of Staff, Trump Says

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Mick Mulvaney will serve as his acting chief of staff after the departure of John Kelly at the end of the year. Mulvaney is currently the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Trump has said he was talking to a number of candidates for the position, but [...]

  • Michael Cohen

    Michael Cohen: Trump Knew Hush Money Payments Were Wrong

    WASHINGTON — Michael Cohen claims that Donald Trump knew that hush money payments made to two women in advance of the 2016 election were wrong. Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” for his first interview since being sentenced to three years in prison, Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, said that when payments were being arranged for [...]

  • Trump Jim Acosta CNN White House

    The Gradual Disappearing Act of the White House Daily Press Briefing

    WASHINGTON — The Trump White House has dropped an event that used to be a prized invite for journalists and their families in D.C.: A holiday party for the media. But another tradition has been disappearing from the West Wing agenda as well: the daily press briefing. The regular televised afternoon back and forth between [...]

  • Nexstar Logo

    Nexstar Settles With Justice Department Over Sharing of Ad Information

    WASHINGTON — Nexstar Media Group, which recently announced plans to acquire Tribune Media and become the largest owner of TV stations in the country, has settled with the Justice Department as it investigates broadcasters’ sharing of competitive advertising rate information with rivals. Six other station groups, including Tribune Media, reached a settlement with the DOJ [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content