WASHINGTON – Following reports that President Donald Trump directed then-National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn to use the Justice Department to block AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner, a move that could benefit Fox News and hurt CNN, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) are requesting the White House and Department of Justice turn over any documents or communications regarding the merger between November 9, 2016 and February 26, 2019.

“Recent reports that President Trump attempted to interfere with antitrust law enforcement are extremely troubling. This latest revelation — that he instructed senior White House officials to ‘get this lawsuit filed’ against the AT&T-Time Warner merger — follow a series of reports suggesting that the president seeks to wield the antitrust laws as a political weapon, to reward friends and punish enemies,” said Nadler and Cicilline. “Even the appearance of White House interference in antitrust law enforcement matters undermines public trust in the Department of Justice’s integrity. The fact of actual interference would constitute a grave abuse of power. We are committed to fulling our oversight responsibilities and our duty to protect the rule of law.”

The full text of the letters sent to the White House and the Department of Justice is embedded below. PDF copies can be downloaded by clicking the following links – DOJ letterWhite House letter.

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March 7, 2019

Pat Cipollone

White House Counsel

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. Cipollone:

We write to underscore our serious concerns regarding allegations that President Trump attempted to interfere with antitrust law enforcement. According to a recent report by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, President Donald Trump instructed senior White House officials to direct the Justice Department’s review of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. As she notes in this report:

“[President Trump] called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, ‘I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!’”

As we have noted previously, White House interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable.  Antitrust enforcement must be guided by the rule of law, not wielded as a political weapon to reward friends and punish enemies. Any effort to use the antitrust laws to censor, undermine, or retaliate against the press is a threat to the First Amendment and a vibrant democracy.

The reports of attempted political intervention into antitrust enforcement harkens to similar allegations during the Nixon Administration. After receiving a large political donation, President Nixon ordered the Justice Department to end its antitrust investigation into International Telephone and Telegraph, ITT.  George H.W. Bush’s Antitrust Division Director James Rill described such politically motivated enforcement orders as “plainly on the inappropriate, possibly illegal, side of the line.”  We must safeguard the proper enforcement of the antitrust laws.

This is not the first report suggesting that the President has attempted to direct the administration of the antitrust laws. As we noted to then-Attorney General Sessions,  Rudy Giuliani—President Trump’s attorney—has suggested that the President instructed DOJ officials to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, stating that President Trump “denied the merger.”  Although Mr. Giuliani went on to retract this statement, he maintained that the President “had every right and power” to interfere with the proposed transaction. 

Even the appearance of White House interference in antitrust law enforcement matters undermines public trust in the Department of Justice’s integrity and tarnishes meritorious enforcement by the Antitrust Division. The fact of actual interference would constitute a serious abuse of power.

In light of these recent reports, we respectfully request that you provide complete responses and produce the relevant documents and communications listed below by no later than March, 20, 2019 to the following questions:

1.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019, between President Donald Trump and Gary Cohn relating to the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.

2.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019, sent from or received by President Donald Trump or any employee of the Executive Office of the President relating to the investigation, decision to file, and the filing of the government’s complaint in United States v. AT&T Inc., et al., No. 1:17-cv-02511 (D. D.C. Nov. 20, 2017). This should not include copies of pleadings or filings found on a public court docket.

3.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019, sent from or received by any Trump Transition official, or any employee of the Executive Office of the President, relating to the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.

4.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019 sent from or received by President Donald Trump, or any employee of the Executive Office of the President, relating to the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.

5.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019 sent from or received by President Donald Trump, or any employee of the Executive Office of the President, relating to divestiture or settlement in the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Sincerely,

Jerrold Nadler

Chairman

House Committee on the Judiciary

David N. Cicilline

Chairman

House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

cc: The Honorable Doug Collins, Ranking Member

House Committee on the Judiciary

The Honorable James F. Sensenbrenner, Jr., Ranking Member

House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

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March 7, 2019

Makan Delrahim

Assistant Attorney General

Antitrust Division

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20530

Dear Assistant Attorney General Delrahim:

We write to underscore our serious concerns regarding allegations that President Trump attempted to interfere with antitrust law enforcement. According to a recent report by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, President Donald Trump instructed senior White House officials to direct the Justice Department’s review of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. As she notes in this report:

“[President Trump] called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, ‘I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!’”

As we have noted previously, White House interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable.  Antitrust enforcement must be guided by the rule of law, not wielded as a political weapon to reward friends and punish enemies. Moreover, any effort to use the antitrust laws to censor, undermine, or retaliate against the press is a threat to the First Amendment and a vibrant democracy.

The reports of attempted political intervention into antitrust enforcement harkens to similar allegations during the Nixon Administration. After receiving a large political donation, President Nixon ordered the Justice Department to end its antitrust investigation into International Telephone and Telegraph, ITT.  George H.W. Bush’s Antitrust Division Director James Rill described such politically motivated enforcement orders as “plainly on the inappropriate, possibly illegal, side of the line.”  We must safeguard the proper enforcement of the antitrust laws.

This is not the first time that we have written to the Department regarding this matter. On February 8, 2018, and then again on May 15, 2018, we wrote to the Attorney General asking for documents and communications on this matter, including any record of contacts between the Department and any White House official. 

The Justice Department did not provide any of the requested documents. In a May 2018 letter, the Justice Department stated that it is “committed to ensuring” that “political considerations do not influence the handling of particular investigations or cases,” and that “all investigations conducted by the Antitrust Division are initiated and conducted in a fair, professional, and impartial manner, without regard to political considerations.” 

Even the appearance of White House interference in antitrust law enforcement matters undermines public trust in the Department of Justice’s integrity and tarnishes meritorious enforcement by the Antitrust Division. The fact of actual interference would constitute a serious abuse of power.

In light of these recent reports, we respectfully request that you provide complete responses and produce the relevant documents and communications listed below by no later than March 20, 2019 to the following questions:

1.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019, sent from or received by the Department of Justice to or from President Donald Trump or Gary Cohn relating to the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.

2.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019, sent from or received by the Department of Justice to or from Trump Transition employees, or White House employees, relating to the investigation, decision to file, and the filing of the government’s complaint in United States v. AT&T Inc., et al., No. 1:17-cv-02511 (D. D.C. Nov. 20, 2017).  This should not include copies of pleadings or filings found on a public court docket.

3.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019, sent from or received by any employee of the Department of Justice to or from any Trump Transition official, OR any employee of the Executive Office of the President relating to the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.

4.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019 sent from or received by President Donald Trump, or any employee of the Executive Office of the President, sent from or received by the Department of Justice relating to the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.

5.         Documents and Communications dated or occurring from November 9, 2016 to February 26, 2019 sent from or received by the Department of Justice to and from President Donald Trump, or any employee of the Executive Office of the President, relating to divestiture or settlement in the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Sincerely,

Jerrold Nadler

Chairman

House Committee on the Judiciary    

David N. Cicilline

Chairman

House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

cc:       The Honorable Doug Collins, Ranking Member

House Committee on the Judiciary

The Honorable James F. Sensenbrenner, Jr., Ranking Member

House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law