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Nadler & Cicilline Statement on White House Refusal to Provide Answers on Interference with AT&T-Time Warner Merger

Washington, April 16, 2019

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) released a joint statement in response to the White House’s refusal to provide answers related to their potential interference with the merger of AT&T and Time Warner:

“Antitrust enforcement is law enforcement. It must be guided by the rule of law, not used as a political cudgel to reward friends and punish enemies or to retaliate against the press for the exercise of its First Amendment rights. In what has become a troubling pattern for the Trump Administration, the White House Counsel has made a blanket claim that all White House communications—regardless of whether they contain evidence of improper or even unlawful activities—are protected by a cone of secrecy. 

“It appears the White House Counsel believes that the President has unfettered discretion to use law enforcement as a political weapon. That view of presidential power not only disregards well-established policies and norms that prohibit the White House from interfering in law enforcement activities, but is also incompatible with our democracy. As Members of Congress, it is our constitutional duty to conduct vigorous oversight of the administration to ensure that the President faithfully executes and enforces the law. We will continue to pursue this matter.”

Background:

On March 7, 2019, Chairman Nadler and Subcommittee Chairman Cicilline asked the White House and the Justice Department to respond to troubling reports that President 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.  On April 15, 2019, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone responded with a letter claiming that all such communications are “protected communications.”  Cipollone did not deny that President Trump ordered Mr. Cohn to interfere in the Justice Department’s law enforcement activities for transparently self-serving and improper reasons.  Instead, Mr. Cipollone made the claim that “Executive branch discretion flowing from the Take Care Clause [of the Constitution] applies in all contexts, including antitrust matters.” The Committee has not received a written response from the Justice Department.

George H.W. Bush’s Antitrust Division Director stated that a politically motivated use of antitrust authorities—when engaged in by President Nixon—was “plainly on the inappropriate, possibly illegal, side of the line.”  Furthermore, in a sworn affidavit submitted in his prior capacity as a member of the Board of Directors of Time Warner Inc., Attorney General William Barr said that it would be “disturbing” if the Antitrust Division’s position on the merger was “the product not of a well-versed substantive analysis, but rather political or other motivation.”

The full text of the March 7, 2019 letters to the White House and the Department of Justice are available here: DOJ letter, White House letter.

The text of the White House Counsel’s April 15, 2019 letter is available here.

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