WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday moved to prevent AT&T Inc (T.N) from arguing that politics played a role in the government's decision to stop its merger with Time Warner Inc (TWX.N), a deal that President Donald Trump had publicly criticized.
"There was no selective enforcement," Justice Department lawyer Craig Conrath said at a hearing on pretrial preparations for the wireless and pay TV provider's case.
AT&T and Time Warner's lawyer Daniel Petrocelli, however, cited Trump's public statements against the deal as reason to allow the company to argue that the government opposed the deal for political reasons. It is also seeking records of communications between the White House and Justice Department about the merger.
The documents were requested as preparation for a March 19 trial in which Judge Richard Leon will decide if the $85 billion deal is illegal under antitrust law because it would raise prices for television rivals and subscribers. Trial is set for March 19.
"Let me be the first one to acknowledge: this is an uncomfortable subject. This is not something we relish," Petrocelli said at the hearing at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The government has asked Judge Richard Leon to rule that AT&T may not cite politics, formally known as selective enforcement, as a defense as to quash a request for documents to support that defense.
Leon said he would rule on Tuesday.
The deal has been followed more closely than most antitrust matters because Trump attacked the deal while on the campaign trail in 2016. Trump has also repeatedly criticized Time Warner's CNN news network and, in November, he reiterated his opposition to the proposed transaction. Conrath said the government's lawsuit was not motivated by CNN and said it had offered several alternatives that would have allowed AT&T to acquire CNN.