WASHINGTON — Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost on Friday that President Donald Trump “denied” the AT&T-Time Warner merger, proof that he was not influenced by Michael Cohen after he lined up AT&T as a consulting client as the transaction was under review.
Trump “did drain the swamp. … The president denied the merger. They didn’t get the result they wanted,” said Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN that “the Department of Justice denied the deal.”
His initial comment on its face would validate an argument that AT&T-Time Warner tried to advance before a recent six-week antitrust trial — that they were singled out for antitrust enforcement by the Justice Department because Trump didn’t want it. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has said the “elephant in the room” in the Justice Department’s lawsuit is Trump’s influence. Trump has repeatedly bashed CNN, a unit of Time Warner.
The chief of the Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim, has denied that there was any White House interference in the decision to sue to block the merger, and submitted an affidavit saying so. The White House issued a statement last year saying that “no White House official was authorized to speak with the Department of Justice on this matter.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman referred to Delrahim’s affidavit.
Earlier on Friday evening, Trump tweeted about the merger, calling the reporting on the Cohen affair a “disgrace” because it has not mentioned that the DOJ has sued to block the deal.
“Why doesn’t the Fake News Media state that the Trump Administration’s Anti-Trust Division has been, and is, opposed to the AT&T purchase of Time Warner in a currently ongoing Trial. Such a disgrace in reporting!” he wrote.
But many outlets have done just that, as the decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon is a pending development in what has proven to be a tangled storyline.
In its post-trial brief filed on May 3, AT&T-Time Warner’s attorneys said they have not abandoned their “selective enforcement defense” or the idea that they were unfairly targeted. The companies were not allowed to pursue that line of argument during the trial, but they may try to use it should they lose the case and appeal.
Stephenson sent a letter to employees of AT&T calling the decision to hire Cohen a “big mistake.” He also announced the departure of Bob Quinn, who heads the company’s Washington lobbying and government affairs operations.
Cohen was the longtime attorney for Trump and the Trump Organization.
Cohen was hired by AT&T to consult on the merger and other issues shortly after the inauguration, and was paid a total of $600,000 for his work, the company said, adding that his business was among a number of firms hired to gain insight into the new administration. But Cohen’s hiring has proven to be an embarrassment for AT&T. The company said it was contacted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and they cooperated.
The FBI raided Cohen’s home and office in April, as part of a probe being conducted by New York federal prosecutors.