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Trump told adviser to pressure Justice Department to block AT&T-Time Warner deal: report

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Dramatic week in U.S. politics – Mar 3, 2019

U.S. president Donald Trump ordered a senior White House official to pressure the Justice Department to block a merger between AT&T and Time Warner in 2017, according to a report in the New Yorker.

Gary Cohn reportedly told chief of staff John Kelly: “Don’t you f**ing dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.”

Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, directed the White House’s National Economic Council, a body that gives the president economic advice. He left the White House about a year later.

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Kelly and Cohn did not comment to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.

Mayer sets Trump’s opposition to the deal in the context of his close ties to Fox and enmity to CNN, which he denounces as “fake news.” Time Warner owns CNN, and, she writes, ” … saw the deal as essential to its survival at a time when the media business is increasingly dominated by giant competitors such as Google and Facebook.”

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Fox, on the other hand, opposed it. Trump, a close ally of Fox, claimed that the deal was “not good for the country,” but also said he was “not going to get involved.”

Mayer notes the very close connections between Fox and Trump’s White House, with the conservative network closely following administration talking points, and Trump reportedly watching it for hours every day.

Bill Shine, a former co-president of Fox, kept being paid by the network after becoming White House communications director.

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The U.S. government opposed the AT&T/Time Warner merger in court, losing its case last June. After the decision, a Time Warner spokesman said that the case against the company had been “political in its motivation” and driven by Trump’s hostility to CNN.

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Trump complained to Kelly about Cohn’s scruples, Mayer reports, saying at one point: “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”