Judge sets March trial date for AT&T merger fight

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A federal judge set March 19 as the trial date for the Justice Department’s lawsuit to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

AT&T had asked that the trial begin in February, while prosecutors with the Justice Department’s antitrust division requested May.

“This is not a normal case — from many perspectives,” Judge Richard Leon told the two legal teams Thursday.

AT&T had been pushing for an expedited trial to beat the merger’s April 22 deadline. If the deal doesn’t close by then, AT&T will have to pay $500 million to Time Warner.

Leon urged the companies to consider pushing back the deadline.

“Getting an opinion on April 22 is not going to happen,” he said.

AT&T said it was looking forward to making its case for the merger.

“We thank the Court for its deliberate and expeditious approach to this matter,” David McAtee, AT&T’s general counsel, said in a statement. “We understand and appreciate how busy the Court is, and we will promptly discuss the Court’s post-trial schedule with Time Warner.”

The proposed merger would join AT&T, a telecom giant, with Time Warner’s entertainment businesses, including HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner Media.

Regulators, though, are suing to block the $85 billion deal, arguing that it would give AT&T too much power over the television and video market.

AT&T in a formal response said the deal is “pro-competitive” and “pro-consumer” and said the video market has already been altered by new players such as Netflix.

The deal has also attracted scrutiny over one of Turner Media’s most prominent networks: CNN.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE has publicly feuded with the cable network accusing it of biased coverage. Trump also said on the campaign trail that he would oppose the merger.

That sparked concerns of political interference in the merger review process.

Last month, AT&T and Justice Department officials clashed over reports that said regulators told the company they would only approve the deal if CNN was sold.

DOJ officials told The Hill they had rejected an offer from AT&T to sell CNN to get approval for the merger. AT&T denied that it had any intention of selling CNN.

The head of the DOJ antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, has denied any White House interference.

It’s unclear how much Trump’s comments about CNN and the merger will weigh on the case.

This story was updated at 4:06 p.m.

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