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Now AT&T says it’s not sure when its Time Warner deal will close

Because it’s talking to Donald Trump’s new appointee at the Department of Justice.

AT&T’s Randall Stephenson at a White House event, seated next to Donald Trump
AT&T’s Randall Stephenson at a White House event in June 2017
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

AT&T, which first proposed buying Time Warner more than a year ago, says it is now “uncertain” when that deal will finally close, because it’s in talks with the U.S. Department of Justice.

That’s a change from just a few weeks ago, when Time Warner was telling investors the deal was on track to close by the end of the year. The deal was originally supposed to close last month, but the two companies said they would extend their original deadline “for a short period of time to facilitate obtaining final regulatory approval.”

Now John Stephens, AT&T’s chief financial officer, says he doesn’t have a timetable for the deal. That’s per analyst Walt Piecyk, who was listening to a Stephens interview at an investor conference this morning:

I’ve asked AT&T and Time Warner reps for comment.

If you’re AT&T and Time Warner and you want to get the deal done, you would likely argue that Stephens’ comments are no big deal: Giant $86 billion deals are complex, and it’s natural to be talking to the regulators that are supposed to sign off on the deal — and, most important, Makan Delrahim, the DOJ antitrust boss who’s the decision-maker on this deal, only started on the job a few weeks ago.

On the other hand: CFOs of giant companies generally don’t do a lot of ad-libbing in public forums. And Stephens’ comments come after the Wall Street Journal spooked investors by suggesting that the DOJ might sue to stop the deal.

And all of that is happening under a Donald Trump-shaped cloud: During his presidential campaign, Trump said he was against the deal. And he has been a vocal critic of Time Warner’s CNN unit, which leads to ongoing speculation that he might try to scuttle the deal for political/personal reasons.

Time Warner investors seem to be paying attention to Stephens’s comments: They’ve pushed shares down 2.5 percent in pre-market trading.

Update: There is indeed a there, there, Reuters reports. It says the DOJ is pushing for “structural remedies” in order to get the deal done, suggesting AT&T would have to sell something off to get the deal done.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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