AT&T has 'no intention' of selling CNN, no matter what Trump's DOJ says

  • The US Department of Justice told AT&T and Time Warner that they must sell Turner Broadcasting — which includes CNN — or DirecTV if it wants to receive approval for their massive merger.
  • AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told Business Insider, "I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so."
  • US President Donald Trump has criticized both CNN and the mega-deal on many occasions in the past.
  • These latest developments have thrown into question when the deal will ultimately close, if it does at all.

The US Department of Justice has informed AT&T and Time Warner that they must sell Turner Broadcasting, the group of channels that includes CNN, if they want approval for their $84.5 billion merger, according to a New York Times report citing people briefed on the matter.

AT&T chief executive officer Randall Stephenson told Business Insider on Wednesday that he had no plans to do that.

"Until now, we’ve never commented on our discussions with the DOJ," Stephenson said in a written statement. "But given the DOJ’s statement this afternoon, it’s important to set the record straight. Throughout this process, I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so."

RELATED: AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson through the years

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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson through the years
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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson through the years
Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee during a hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson (L) and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner Jeffrey Bewkes listen to testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson (L) and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner Jeffrey Bewkes testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., from left, speaks while Jeffrey 'Jeff' Bewkes, chairman and chief executive officer of Time Warner Inc., listens during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Stephenson told Congress his company's planned $85.4 billion purchase of HBO and CNN owner Time Warner Inc. will help the telecommunications provider challenge cable companies for customers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson (L), Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner Jeffrey Bewkes (C) and Chairman of AXS TV and owner of the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban are sworn in before a Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., swears into a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. AT&T Inc. Stephenson told Congress his company's planned $85.4 billion purchase of HBO and CNN owner Time Warner Inc. will help the telecommunications provider challenge cable companies for customers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson (L) speaks as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner Jeffrey Bewkes listens during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Stephenson told Congress his company's planned $85.4 billion purchase of HBO and CNN owner Time Warner Inc. will help the telecommunications provider challenge cable companies for customers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump (C), flanked by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (L) and Trumbull Unmanned CEO Dyan Gibbens (R), holds an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump (C), flanked by New Enterprise Associates (NEA) Managing General Partner Peter Barris, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Trumbull Unmanned CEO Dyan Gibbens, Honeywell President Darius Adamczyk and White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, holds an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump greets AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (C) as he arrives for an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson shows U.S. President Donald Trump a model of how his company plans to install 5G networks in urban settings during in an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson shows U.S. President Donald Trump a model of how his company plans to install 5G networks in urban settings during in an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
AT&T's Randall Stephenson (L) speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump meets with technology and telecommunications executives at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 04: Chairman and CEO of AT&T Randall Stephenson speaks onstage during Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 4, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 04: Chairman and CEO of AT&T Randall Stephenson and Deputy Editor Stephanie Mehta speak onstage during Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 4, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., speaks during the International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) InterConnect 2017 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. IBM InterConnect brings together industry leaders with sessions dedicated to the education and development skills needed to elevate businesses with cloud computing. Photographer: David Becker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., left, speaks as Ginni Rometty, chief executive officer of International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), smiles during the IBM InterConnect 2017 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. IBM InterConnect brings together industry leaders with sessions dedicated to the education and development skills needed to elevate businesses with cloud computing. Photographer: David Becker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., reacts during a Bloomberg Television interview at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 17 - 20. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., right, stands in an elevator at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Donald Trump is slated to meet with AT&T Inc.'s top executives on Thursday to discuss the company's proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. The president-elect has said he opposes the deal. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., arrives at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Donald Trump is slated to meet with AT&T Inc.'s top executives on Thursday to discuss the company's proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. The president-elect has said he opposes the deal. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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The proposed divestiture of Turner is one of several demands being made by regulators as they assess antitrust concerns surrounding the AT&T–Time Warner deal, a report from the Financial Times said. It is, however, the condition viewed as the most likely sticking point as AT&T has opposed it in the past and argued the deal isn't anti-competitive.

The other avenue AT&T could take to get the deal approved would be for it to sell its DirecTV division, according to The Times' report. If the DOJ makes either demand official, AT&T and Time Warner would almost certainly take the matter to court, The Times added.

The reported demands by Trump's DOJ come on the heels of repeated instances of the president calling CNN "fake news." Trump also criticized the proposed acquisition near the end of his presidential campaign, saying that "deals like this destroy democracy."

RELATED: Social media reacts to Trump sharing video of him beating up CNN in July

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Social media reacts to Trump sharing video of him beating up CNN
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Social media reacts to Trump sharing video of him beating up CNN
@MikeTokes @realDonaldTrump Something is seriously wrong with the President of the United States. We all need to be concerned.
@eugenegu @MikeTokes @realDonaldTrump This. Nothing about this is humorous. It's chilling. We are watching the lead… https://t.co/m5n6L4Lxyr
@realDonaldTrump How is this real life?
@realDonaldTrump "Our culture has gotten too mean" - Melania Trump
There was a time when Bill Clinton was called unpresidential for playing the saxophone on TV. https://t.co/CzljzbxrKH
Isn't pro wrestling fake?
Amazing how much time and energy @POTUS is devoting to health care. All those tweets this weekend and that health care rally last night
@realDonaldTrump "The President in no way form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, qu… https://t.co/mfIDhQPM5G
The president of the United States, instead of dealing with health care, ISIS, or the economy today, is tweeting out revenge porn.
welp, good to know i can still be shocked https://t.co/cZZp2NXO9f
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"As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few," Trump said in an October 22 speech.

Trump's concerns echo those expressed by many critics of the proposed deal who think too much consolidation in the media and telecom industries is ultimately bad for both. Still, antitrust experts have said that on a strictly legal basis, fighting the deal might be difficult for the DOJ.

Earlier on Wednesday, AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens hinted at the struggles it was facing with the DOJ, saying amid discussions that the timing of the deal closing was "now uncertain."

These latest developments throws into question the timetable laid out by both companies in late October, when they the deal would be completed by the end of 2017.

Time Warner's stock dropped as much as 6.9% on the news, while AT&T climbed 1.1%.

Steve Kovach contributed reporting.

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