FCC Chairman: White House Inquired About Status of Sinclair-Tribune Merger

Ajit Pai

WASHINGTON — FCC chairman Ajit Pai told a Senate committee on Thursday that the White House made an inquiry into the status of the merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media on July 16 or July 17, as the commission moved to send the transaction to an administration for review.

Pai said White House counsel Don McGahn called on July 16 or July 17 because “he saw something in the news. … He wanted to know what the action was.”

Pai announced on July 16 that he had “serious concerns” about the merger, as questions were raised as to whether Sinclair engaged in misrepresentations and a “lack of candor” in merger filings. He recommended sending the merger to an administrative judge for review, something that immediately put into question the future of the deal itself.

Tribune backed out of the merger last week, and filed a lawsuit against Sinclair claiming that the company jeopardized its regulatory approval.

Pai, appearing at an oversight hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, said, “no one has called from the White House to express a view. We received one status inquiry.”

Pai was being questioned by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who asked him to provide a written summary of the conversation within a week.

President Donald Trump himself criticized the FCC action in a tweet. He wrote on July 24, “So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune. This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!” Pai has since said he stands by the FCC’s decision.

Sinclair has denied that it engaged in misrepresentation.