AT&T is not expecting to settle its dispute with the Department of Justice over the Time Warner deal, the wireless carrier's Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said Wednesday, shortly after the publication of the company's consolidated financial report for the final quarter of 2017. While speaking during the firm's latest earnings call, the executive insisted AT&T is still open to the possibility of settling the matter outside of a courtroom should the DOJ be prepared to look for "reasonable solutions" with the telecom giant but added that such a scenario isn't something the management anticipates. Reiterating on his previous statements on the topic, Mr. Stephenson said he's confident the Dallas, Texas-based mobile service provider has a strong case against the DOJ's antitrust arguments and will successfully defend its proposed acquisition of the media conglomerate in the court of law.
The federal regulator's decision to block the consolidation valued at $85.4 billion surprised many industry watchers and AT&T itself. As the second largest wireless carrier in the United States repeatedly argued, Washington has no precedent for opposing vertical mergers like the one Time Warner agreed with the telecom firm, with its decision to do so regardless being even more unexpected given its political context, i.e. the fact that it happened under a Republican government, as GOP has historically been more acceptive of big business tie-ups than the Democratic Party. Recent reports suggested AT&T is suspecting the White House had a hand in the DOJ's lawsuit due to President Trump's largely hostile relations with CNN, a media company owned by Time Warner's Turner. The federal agency previously denied such allegations, citing antitrust concerns raised by the proposed deal and claiming AT&T showed little willingness to cooperate with its investigation.
According to multiple reports from late 2017, the DOJ tried to pressure AT&T into selling its DIRECTV division in order to get the deal approved or pledge to divest Turner following its conclusion, citing anti-competitive moves AT&T could potentially practice should it be allowed to own both. The trial meant to settle the dispute between the two is scheduled to start on March 19th, with the wireless carrier recently saying it's expecting to close the Time Warner acquisition in mid-2018.