A group of former Justice Department officials is raising concerns that President Trump may have influenced the department’s decision to block AT&T’s merger with Time Warner to punish Time-Warner-owned CNN for its news coverage.
Such politically-motivated interference would be unconstitutional, the former officials said in an amicus brief filed Thursday night in the lawsuit filed by DOJ to block the merger. It would also be part of a pattern of Trump appearing to use the DOJ to try to advance his political agenda.
“President Trump has urged a criminal investigation of his political rivals; he has suggested that he can instruct the Department to halt investigations into his associates; and he has claimed an ‘absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,’” the filing reads.
“The president neither has the absolute right to do what he wants with the Justice Department nor the constitutional authority to punish a news organization for its critical coverage,” it adds.
The DOJ denies that Trump’s criticisms of the network he derides as “fake news” played a role in its decision, saying the merger would raise prices for American consumers.
Signees on the brief include heavyweights like former Watergate counsel John Dean; former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara; and John McKay, one of the U.S. attorneys fired as part of the politicized dismissal of some of those officeholders under the George W. Bush administration.
Protect Democracy, a bipartisan nonprofit made up of former White House lawyers, filed the brief on the ex-DOJ officials’ behalf.
“As an example of the power structure I am fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN — a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump told rally-goers in Gettysburg, Penn. in October 2016, the day the planned merger was announced.
As TPM previously reported, Trump’s involvement in the DOJ’s case would jeopardize the independence of both the U.S. justice system and the free press.
Congressional Democrats have warned the DOJ that they believe Trump is improperly blocking the merger to influence the coverage of Time Warned-owned CNN.