No fewer than six US senators have now requested information from Department of Justice Antitrust Division Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim to determine whether there has been any interference into the ongoing review of the proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, Fox Business News reports.
The senators are hoping to ascertain whether the integrity of the merger review remains intact, following reports that White House officials have shown support for the merger proposal. That would be in direct opposition to recommendations by DOJ Antitrust Division staff suggesting the $26 billion deal should be blocked, with pressure from the discrepancy potentially creating conflict within the agency and preventing an impartial outcome, the senators say.
Questions center around three requests, detailed in a letter sent to Mr. Delrahim by Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Udall, Richard Blumenthal, and Edward Markey.
To that end, the signatories are asking for an in-depth description of any efforts made by the President or advisors to the President, whether official or unofficial — or any other White House employees– to influence the DOJ with regard to the merger. Specifically, the lawmakers are requesting information about any attempt has been made to put forward any opinions or information about the merger deal or any inquiries about deliberations surrounding the review.
In addition to detailed accounts of any interactions that might have occurred, the senators are seeking to determine whether any resulting conduct or the interactions themselves were in accordance with policies in place for either the Executive Branch of government or the department. Finally, the letter calls on the DOJ to overturn any and all communications between the White House and the agency.
The Justice Department has stated that "all of the law enforcement decisions" it makes are "based on the facts and the law, and free from any improper political influence." It further maintains that review of T-Mobile's bid to acquire Sprint has followed the same policies and is being reviewed by the same standards as any other proposed transaction.
Concerns about the merger
Whether or not there is any cause for concern about interactions between the White House and the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division remains to be seen. The deal has repeatedly stalled since its initial proposal and in spite of several revisions. Any decision to approve or contest the merger, following recommendations of staff, will fall to Mr. Delrahim.
Concerns about the merger are mostly derived from concerns that reducing the number of major nationwide wireless competitors in the US from four to just three will have a negative overall impact on consumers. Opponents of the deal have argued that allowing T-Mobile and Sprint to merge will be harmful to competition as well as to the number of employment opportunities available in the industry. It has also been proposed that the merger would result in raised prices for consumers, coinciding with the drop in competition.
The two companies have proposed that joining the businesses under the 'New T-Mobile' branding will be better for competition, consumers, and employment. The carriers claim that the new company would be able to not only match prior job figures but would also be able to surpass those and provide a better customer service experience to customers without raising prices.
Simultaneously, the joint networking licenses shared by Sprint and T-Mobile would result in the rapid expansion of 5G, making the US more competitive at the global level in terms of next-generation networking. The latter sentiment, in particular, has appealed to the current administration, which views the technology as vital to the continuity of national security.