Lawmakers are calling for an investigation into possible "political interference" amid accusations that the Justice Department is pushing for the sale of CNN before it will approve AT&T's merger with Time Warner. Sources tell Politico the DOJ gave the companies an "ultimatum" Monday demanding they drop either AT&T's DirecTV or Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting, which includes networks CNN, TBS, and TNT. But "it's all about CNN," a source tells the Financial Times. The fear is that President Trump—who vowed to block the $85 million deal in an October 2016 speech—is intervening to target the "fake news" network he's used as a punching bag throughout much of his presidency, an idea backed by Trump's suggestion last month that news outlets should be punished.
The White House and DOJ's Antitrust Division say there's been no White House interference. Indeed, DOJ officials say the companies offered to sell CNN and the DOJ rejected the plan. But AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says they "never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so." While there are bipartisan concerns that the deal would create a too-powerful mega group, a court battle is now likely if the merger is rejected. "Any indication that this administration is using its power to weaken media organizations it doesn’t like would be a profoundly disturbing development," says Sen. Al Franken, while Sen. Brian Schatz wants an investigation, per the Hill. Both are Democrats; fellow Dem Richard Blumenthal, however, says CNN's sale may be "necessary," noting "the DOJ seems to be doing its job."