AT&T, Time Warner merger gets ap­proval from fed­eral judge.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALEX SWOYER

A fed­eral judge on Tues­day ap­proved an $85 bil­lion merger be­tween AT&T and Time Warner, rul­ing against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which had sought to up­end the deal.

The govern­ment had ar­gued that cus­tomers would be harmed by higher prices if telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant AT&T ac­quired me­dia con­glom­er­ate Time Warner and created less com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­ket.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon is­sued a 172-page opin­ion Tues­day, say­ing the govern­ment did not meet its bur­den of proof.

“In short, de­spite the Govern­ment’s ef­forts to paint a con­trary picture, this is not a case con­tain­ing direct, pro­ba­tive ev­i­dence of an­ti­com­pet­i­tive in­tent on the part of high-level ex­ec­u­tives within the merg­ing com­pany,” wrote Judge Leon, an ap­pointee of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

The de­ci­sion comes af­ter the com­pa­nies have been wait­ing to close their deal since they first an­nounced plans in Oc­to­ber 2016. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sued last year, but af­ter months of dis­cov­ery and a roughly six-week trial, AT&T will now be able to close the deal ahead of the June 21 dead­line, which had a “break up fee” of $500 mil­lion.

AT&T will com­plete its merger with Time Warner by June 20, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Com­pany lawyers suc­cess­fully ar­gued that the merger would al­low Time Warner to pro­vide AT&T with in­no­va­tive video and ad­ver­tis­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, while AT&T would sup­ply Time Warner with cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships.

“The par­ties have waged an epic bat­tle, un­der ex­tremely re­stricted dead­lines, to lit­i­gate and try this his­toric ver­ti­cal merger case,” Judge Leon wrote. “The Court has now spo­ken and the de­fen­dants have won.”

As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Makan Del­rahim said the govern­ment was dis­ap­pointed by the rul­ing and is ex­plor­ing next steps.

“We con­tinue to be­lieve that the pay-TV mar­ket will be less com­pet­i­tive and less in­no­va­tive as a re­sult of the pro­posed merger be­tween AT&T and Time Warner,” Mr. Del­rahim said.

“We will closely re­view the Court’s opin­ion and con­sider next steps in light of our com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing com­pe­ti­tion for the ben­e­fit of Amer­i­can con­sumers,” he added.

Judge Leon sug­gested he would not stay his own de­ci­sion and would al­low the merger to go for­ward, even if the govern­ment were to ap­peal.

“To use a stay to ac­com­plish in­di­rectly what could not be done di­rectly — es­pe­cially when it would cause cer­tain ir­repara­ble harm to the de­fen­dants — sim­ply would be un­just. I hope and trust that the Govern­ment will have the good judg­ment, wis­dom, and courage to avoid such a man­i­fest jus­tice,” the judge wrote, not­ing that the com­pa­nies were up against a dead­line to com­plete the deal.

Some le­gal ex­perts have sug­gested that Tues­day’s rul­ing could help other me­dia gi­ants in fu­ture deals. Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firm Com­cast, for ex­am­ple, could make a move on the 21st Cen­tury Fox me­dia em­pire if it can top Walt Dis­ney Co.’s $52.4 bil­lion of­fer, which was made in De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral news re­ports.

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