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Judge rules AT&T can’t see Trump White House communications about the Time Warner merger

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In an important early decision in the case, the judge presiding over the Justice Department’s attempt to block the AT&T–Time Warner merger has ruled that the White House’s private communications on the merger will not be released.

When the department said in November that it would sue to block the mega-merger, thoughts immediately turned to the White House. President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for CNN, and some watchers questioned whether the White House’s hand was present, guiding the Justice Department as a way to exact revenge on the Time Warner-owned property.

The Justice Department has denied any wrongdoing, and said it is only looking to block the merger on the grounds that it is anti-competitive. But to prove the theory, AT&T and Time Warner requested communications between the Justice Department and White House that could have shown the department was engaging in “selective enforcement.” In today’s decision, the judge on the case said the companies had fallen “far short” of the legal bar required to receive the documents.

At the time the lawsuit was first filed, a lawyer hired by AT&T said the companies were “not dependent” on showing that Trump intervened in the Justice Department’s decision. With today’s decision, they’ll likely have to look toward those other avenues in their defense.