"Alternative Facts" - AT&T CEO Admits Was Willing To Dump CNN To Seal Deal With Time Warner

As Jean-Claude Juncker famously admitted (perhaps after one too many bottles of Margaux), "when it gets serious you have to lie."

And so it appears AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson may have felt the same way last year amid the pressure to get a deal done with Time Warner.

In November 2017, as the battle escalated with antitrust officials over the $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner, Stephenson - amid enormous pressure from uber-liberal executives demanding he stand up to Trump's CNN 'fake news' attacks - was adamant that "throughout this process, I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so."

At the time, Bloomberg reported - and it was continuously rumored - that discussions of individual assets, including the division that includes CNN, had come up in talks between the companies and Justice Department officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

Today, October 2018, during a deposition in the government's appeal of the deal's judicial approval, recounted the conversation he had with the government in Nov 2017:

According to a transcript, he was questioned by a Justice Department lawyer about the meeting with Delrahim.

“And during that meeting, you raised the subject of CNN?” the Justice Department lawyer said.

“I did,” Stephenson said.

“OK. And you were the first one to raise the subject of CNN?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Stephenson, who went on to say, “I asked Mr. Delrahim, I think my language, this will be pretty close: ‘If I were to walk in here tomorrow and tell you I had gotten my head around selling CNN, would that allow you to wave this deal through?’ And he said, unequivocally, ‘No.’”

Of course this is not lying or 'fake' news - it is alternative facts as Bloomberg reports that this clash with Stephenson’s public statements at the time is a misunderstanding:

  • To the Justice Department, that was a proposal to sell, the government said

  • Stephenson wasn’t offering to sell CNN in the meeting with Delrahim, according to a person familiar with the case. Instead, he was trying to understand the Justice Department’s core problem with the proposed merger given that similar deals had been resolved in the past without requiring asset sales, the person said.

Finally, we note that Stephenson said in the deposition there were reasons to wonder whether Trump’s animus toward CNN was driving the Justice Department’s opposition to the deal.