Antitrust regulators in the USA and AT&T held tense discussions on Wednesday over whether the second largest wireless carrier in the US would have to sell CNN a Timer Warner cable network as one of the conditions of receiving approval of its takeover bid for the media company.
Speaking at the Dealbook conference in NY on Thursday, Stephenson disputed claims that he offered to sell CNN to win government approval of AT&T's pending acquisition of CNN's parent company Time Warner.
"First and foremost, irrespective of what you read yesterday, I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN".
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on any of the proceedings. But investors and politicians have raised concerns that the Justice Department could be feeling pressure from the Oval Office. Since he took office during January, Trump has not made any further comment about the deal.
"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", Shah said in an emailed statement late Wednesday.
AT&T also hopes to use Time Warner content to support an advertising business that could stand up to Google and Facebook, which dominate the digital-ad industry and are increasingly interested in video themselves.
Makan Delrahim the antitrust division head of the DOJ said the White House never instructed the agency on this matter or any other under review by my division. But regulators' desire for asset sales will complicate negotiations.
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When asked whether the president still personally opposes the AT&T-Time Warner deal, Conway said, "I haven't discussed that with him lately". The discussion of a potential sale of CNN has politicized the situation.
The president previously labeled the network's journalism "fake" and "fraud" news and mockingly called the channel the "Clinton News Network" during last year's presidential race against Hillary Clinton.
Nevertheless, the Justice Department says it flatly denied the proposal for AT&T to sell CNN, insisting it wouldn't necessarily resolve their concerns.
Some sources say AT&T floated the possibility of selling CNN or other assets. The Justice Department's objections surprised many on Wall Street.
The deal is opposed by an array of rivals and consumer groups anxious that it would give the combined company too much power. "We are prepared to litigate now", Stephenson told CNBC on the sidelines of the New York Times Dealbook conference.
Another sticking point in discussions is the length of time that the U.S. government wants to impose conditions on what AT&T can and cannot do after a deal. Two people briefed on the talks told Reuters the government has sought as long as 10 years for such conditions while AT&T has pressed for a shorter period.