A top Senate Democrat expressed fresh fears yesterday that President Donald Trump may have interfered with the U.S. government’s review of AT&T’s bid to buy Time Warner.
At issue is a report in the New York Times that suggested that Trump’s close aides have explored whether to use the deal as “leverage” against CNN, which is owned by Time Warner. The cable news network has covered Trump fiercely since his election, and the president has opened a full-on Twitter war against CNN’s reporting.
The government’s merger reviews, however, are supposed to be independent from political influence — and the potential for White House interference riled Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the leading Democratic lawmaker on her chamber’s top competition committee. In a letter sent to the Justice Department on Friday, she demanded the agency detail any conversations it’s had with Trump or other White House officials about AT&T, Time Warner and CNN.
“Any political interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable,” Klobuchar wrote. “Even more concerning, in this instance, is that it appears that some advisers to the President may believe that it is appropriate for the government to use its law enforcement authority to alter or censor the press. Such an action would violate the First Amendment.”
Previously, Trump himself has blasted the AT&T-Time Warner deal: During the 2016 presidential campaign, he essentially threatened to block it.
After winning the White House, however, Trump opted to nominate Makan Delrahim, a well-known corporate competition lawyer, to the leading antitrust post at the Justice Department. And Delrahim — months before accepting his appointment — publicly said that AT&T’s proposed merger did not pose a “major antitrust problem.”
The issue still arose during Delrahim’s confirmation hearing, where lawmakers asked if Trump had ever raised the deal with him. In response, Delrahim assured the Senate: “I was not asked, nor have I provided, any commitments or assurances regarding any potential enforcement actions or pending matters before the Antitrust Division.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.