President Donald Trump ordered his chief of staff and top economic adviser to pressure the Justice Department to intervene against AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner in 2017, according to a New Yorker report.
The Justice Department eventually did intervene, unsuccessfully.
In late summer 2017, The New Yorker reported, a few months before the Justice Department formally filed suit to block the deal, Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then his chief economic adviser, to pressure the Justice Department to oppose the acquisition.
The magazine, citing an unnamed “well-informed source,” reported that Trump told White House chief of staff John Kelly and Cohn in an Oval Office meeting:
“I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”
According to the same source, Cohn, who announced his resignation in March 2018, told Kelly on the way out of the meeting:
“Don’t you fucking dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.”
An unnamed former White House official told the magazine that Trump “vented” in “frustration” about wanting to block the deal often. The former official added:
“The President does not understand the nuances of antitrust law or policy … But he wanted to bring down the hammer.”
Though the DOJ has denied that Trump was involved in its suit to stop the acquisition, Trump made his feelings about it known publicly. In 2016, then-Trump campaign economic adviser and current Trump administration trade official Peter Navarro said: “AT&T, the original and abusive ‘Ma Bell’ telephone monopoly, is now trying to buy Time Warner and thus the wildly anti-Trump CNN. Donald Trump would never approve such a deal because it concentrates too much power in the hands of the too and powerful few.”
And after government lawyers filed suit, Trump commented: “Personally, I’ve always felt that that was a deal that’s not good for the country. I think your pricing is going to go up. But I’m not going to get involved. It’s litigation.”
The same New Yorker report, which focused on the relationship between Fox News and the President, also revealed that a Fox News reporter uncovered Trump’s hush money payment to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign, but that Fox News blocked the publication of the story. An executive reportedly told the reporter: “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert [Murdoch], wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.”
A Fox News spokesperson pointed TPM to two past denials of a year-old version of that story, as reported by CNN’s Oliver Darcy in January 2018: Noah Kotch, who became editor-in-chief and vice president of Fox News digital a few months after the hush money report was allegedly spiked, said it was not published because “we were unable to verify all of the facts.” And Ken LaCorte, the executive who allegedly told the reporter to “let it go,” told Mediaite separately, after discussing a few details of the hush money reporting: “If I had run that, I wouldn’t have been a good journalist.”
This post has been updated.