Did President Donald Trump seek to block a huge media merger because he was peeved at CNN? The allegation that the president threw his executive power around to punish a news media outlet he detests is at the core of an article this week in the New Yorker. At issue is the $85.4 billion AT&T purchase of Time Warner, which includes CNN, a deal announced in late October 2016. In November 2017, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division brought suit to block the merger, saying it would harm competition. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leonruled in June 2018 that the department’s concerns were unfounded.
A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld his ruling, giving the deal a green light. Trump had spoken out against the merger in the final days of his presidential campaign saying Oct. 22, 2016, that the combined companies would represent “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reports that in the late summer of 2017, the president ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to get the Justice Department to file suit. Mayer reports that Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly and said to Kelly, “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it 50 times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!” Mayer reports that Cohn “evidently understood” it would be highly improper, and as he walked out of the meeting told Kelly not to do as the president asked. It is not known whether Trump found another channel for his demand, but the department did file the suit.
Mayer relates this as part of a larger story about Trump’s intense courting of Fox News. Had the deal been blocked, it certainly could have harmed CNN and benefited Fox. Mayer describes a president who appears eager to abuse his power to destroy his enemies. Congress ought to investigate.