AT&T wants the antitrust chief of the Department of Justice to take the stand at the upcoming trial meant to decide the future of its proposed acquisition of Time Warner, The New York Times reported earlier this week, citing people familiar with the development. Makan Delrahim, the United States Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division, is the government official who ended up greenlighting the DOJ's lawsuit against the wireless carrier's consolidation attempt and his appointment was previously reported as the beginning of the end for AT&T's hopes of concluding the $85 billion merger without a courtroom battle.
While the federal agency's decision to attempt blocking a vertical merger is highly unprecedented, so is AT&T's reported maneuver meant to have Mr. Delrahim testify during the trial. As the person who gave the final approval for the lawsuit, his stances should be clear enough and usually wouldn't warrant an actual testimony. The official's name still ended up on the witness list submitted by AT&T earlier this month, insiders claim, adding that the wireless carrier also requested any communications between Mr. Delrahim and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as any correspondence between the DOJ and the White House. The move comes several months after AT&T is said to have started suspecting President Trump's office interfered with the progress of the DOJ's review of the merger even though the federal agency publicly denied such allegations. If the mobile service provider truly included Mr. Delrahim to its witness list, it's likely to pursue its suspicions as a legal strategy, trying to prove the DOJ's lawsuit was politically motivated.
Some industry watchers previously speculated President Trump may want to see the merger blocked due to his tense relations with CNN, a unit of Time Warner's Turner. CNN has often been on the receiving end of the President's attacks against what he deems "fake news" but the top office in the country was reserved in regards to publicly commenting on the consolidation attempt after the new President was inaugurated early last year. Shortly after AT&T proposed the purchase of Time Warner in late 2016 and before Mr. Delrahim was appointed to his current position, the DOJ's new antitrust chief appeared on Canada's Business News Network to say he doesn't see any major competition issues with the proposal. The trial between AT&T and the DOJ is scheduled to start on March 19.