- Carlos Barria/Reuters
- After the 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 merger, a prominent ethics expert is calling foul. Richard Painter, former President George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer, said on Wednesday that if the White House weighed in on the DOJ’s call for the companies to sell CNN, that could amount to an impeachable offense.
Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, is calling on AT&T and Time Warner to sue the Department of Justice to find out whether its demand that the companies sell Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN, in order for their merger to be approved was influenced by President Donald Trump or the White House.
Painter argued on Twitter on Wednesday that if Trump or any White House officials had weighed in on the DOJ’s demand it could be a violation of CNN’s First Amendment rights, which is an impeachable offense.
“ATT – Time Warner should take DOJ to court ASAP. Demand discovery of all Trump/WH communications on this deal,” Painter, an outspoken Trump critic, wrote, adding, “Use of antitrust enforcement power to punish CNN for exercise of First Amendment rights is an impeachable offense. The time is now.”
The Department of Justice has informed AT&T and Time Warner that they must sell Turner Broadcasting, a group of television channels that includes CNN, if they want approval for their $84.5 billion merger, according to a Wednesday New York Times report citing individuals briefed on the matter.
Trump has criticized the proposed merger between the telecom company and the television giant as “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”
The divestiture of Turner is just one of multiple demands being made by DOJ regulators, who are assessing antitrust concerns surrounding the AT&T-Time Warner deal, a separate report from the Financial Times said. It is, however, the condition viewed as the most likely sticking point, since 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.
Trump has long derided CNN as “fake news,” and even tweeting out a meme of himself beating up the network. And the president has recently bemoaned the independence of the DOJ and the FBI from the White House.
“The saddest thing is that because I’m the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department,” Trump said during an interview last week. “I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI.”
Joe Ciolli contributed to this report.