Shortly after the Justice Department’s challenge to AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner was announced, a rumor floated that AT&T had offered to divest CNN to assuage the Division’s concerns. The gist of the rumor was that the Division is suing to block an otherwise legitimate transaction as an act of revenge against CNN because CNN is critical of President Trump. In addition to the President’s remarks, the believers also point to statements by the Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust who, before his nomination, said that he didn’t think there was going to be an antitrust problem with the deal. The suit, according to the theory, is an affront to the First Amendment.
Randall Stephenson and the Division quickly denied the rumors. They do keep circulating, however. Partly because the President has tweeted his support of the suit. And, more recently, because of Carter Page. Mr. Page recently filed a pro se request for leave to file an amicus brief in the case arguing, basically, that the combination is illegal because it concentrates too much social power in the hands of a large corporation. Mr. Page was an advisor to Mr. Trump. Acknowledging the court has wide latitude to consider amicus, the Division did observe, in its half-page response, that the brief was not helpful suggesting it should be disregarded.