Washington's approach to the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner is "clueless," Turner Chief Executive Officer John Martin said earlier today while speaking at the latest iteration of the Code Media conference hosted by Recode. Mr. Martin was extremely critical of the recent developments in the case, claiming he's befuddled about the Department of Justice's decision to attempt to block the merger with a lawsuit. AT&T and Time Warner will start facing off in the court of law on March 19 and have been preparing for the high-profile trial for months now, with Mr. Martin being personally involved in that process by participating in depositions. Speaking from that position of experience, the executive said the legal arguments he heard against the merger in the depositions made "absolutely no sense."
Mr. Martin reiterated some of AT&T's previous arguments for the merger, stating that no vertical merger in the history of the country ever had negative consequences for the level of competition in the markets which it was affecting. That argument has often been repeated by many industry analysts during the DOJ's review of the merger, with the vast majority of them predicting the federal regulator will end up approving the deal, citing a lack of a historical precedent for doing the opposite. The DOJ hence ended up surprising most of the industry, including AT&T itself, by suing to block the consolidation on the basis of antitrust concerns. The regulator previously criticized the wireless carrier for not cooperating with its review, suggesting the two ended up clashing over potential concessions.
While the Turner CEO is now harshly critical of the deal, previous reports indicated it was precisely Turner that ended up being one of the breaking points in the DOJ and AT&T's negotiations. The authorities reviewing the case were said to have previously asked for AT&T to decide between selling its DIRECTV unit or Time Warner's Turner in order to get the proposed merger approved, yet the mobile service provider refused to divest either. The Dallas, Texas-based company is now expecting to conclude the $85 billion tie-up in mid-2018, having previously signaled it's so confident in its case that it believes the trial with the DOJ will be extremely short