Is Donald Trump Using the Justice Department to Punish CNN?

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Why is the Justice Department suing to prevent AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner? Is it for legitimate antitrust reasons? Michael Hiltzik makes that case here. Or is it because Time Warner owns CNN and Donald Trump hates CNN? Is this just a way for Trump to take revenge on his least favorite news channel? James Hohmann provides seven reasons that might be the case:

  1. In every other area, the Trump administration is bending over backward to boost big business.
  2. The head of the antitrust division has changed his view on the issue to match the president’s.
  3. The administration’s denials are full of lawyerly language that leaves wiggle room.
  4. Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not respect the independence of the Justice Department. Why would he prize the autonomy of the antitrust division any more than he did the FBI?
  5. There are no precedents for this kind of lawsuit succeeding.
  6. The president has made no secret of his deep personal disdain for CNN.
  7. White House officials have previously hinted that Trump might wade into the antitrust process.

I have no particular ax to grind here. I’d like to see antitrust laws prosecuted more vigorously as a general matter, but I also want to see them applied even-handedly. And I don’t care about CNN one way or the other. However, I’d like to add one more point to Hohmann’s seven. I’m just not sure which way it cuts:

  1. Trump would have to be an idiot to have interfered with this. AT&T’s lawyers are going to demand every scrap of evidence about how this decision was made, and given Trump’s public statements about CNN it’s possible that a judge will let them have it. That probably won’t turn out well.

This is obviously a good reason for Trump not to have interfered. On the other hand, Trump is an idiot. So I don’t know how to score this one.

In any case, this could be a pretty entertaining case if AT&T’s lawyers decide to go to the mats. I’d be curious to hear from an expert or two about how likely it is that AT&T could do some serious damage to the Trump administration during discovery.

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