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Trump said he ‘didn’t make that decision’ to potentially force AT&T and Time Warner to sell CNN

But he did highlight his objection to the deal.

U.S. President Trump visits China Thomas Peter / Getty

President Donald Trump appeared to stress on Saturday that he had not intervened in AT&T’s bid to buy Time Warner — nor did he seek to require that the companies sell CNN in order to obtain the U.S. government’s approval of the deal.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump said he “didn’t make that decision — it was made by a man who’s a very respected person, a very, very respected person.”

The “decision” appears to refer to reports that the Justice Department would seek to block the merger, unless AT&T sold off assets perhaps including CNN, and the person that Trump highlights is likely Makan Delrahim, the antitrust chief at DOJ.

“I did make a comment as to what I think,” Trump also acknowledged. Previously, the president has blasted AT&T and Time Warner’s merger plans — and during the 2016 election, he threatened to block the companies from combining under his watch.

“I do feel you should have as many news outlets as you can — especially since so many are fake,” Trump continued, according to a pool report. Then, he concluded: “I didn't make a statement, but I did make a statement long before. So we’ll see — that probably ends up being litigation, maybe not, we’ll see how it all plays out.”

For the moment, the DOJ has not taken any formal action: It’s still reviewing AT&T’s $86 billion merger proposal, and a decision is expected soon. But government lawyers appear to have some reservations about the deal as proposed, and they could seek to force a combined AT&T and Time Warner to sell Turner. That includes CNN, sources previously told Recode.

Still, the mere possibility that Trump interfered in the DOJ’s review — a process that is supposed to be independent from White House influence — has triggered a groundswell of criticism, particularly on Capitol Hill. Delrahim, however, has maintained that the White House never meddled in his affairs.

“I have never been instructed by the White House on this or any other transaction under review by the antitrust division,” he said in a statement earlier this week.

For its part, AT&T sought to tamp down some of the heated rhetoric, too. “I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done is selling CNN. Period,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said at the New York Times DealBook conference in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Friday that Rupert Murdoch has been in contact with Stephenson. Sources disagreed, however, as to whether Murdoch offered to buy CNN on those calls.

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