Time Warner shares drop on report DOJ may sue to block AT&T deal

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Time Warner (TWX) stock fell 5% Thursday morning on the news that the U.S. government may sue to block AT&T (T, Tech30)‘s acquisition of the media company.

AT&T had no immediate comment on the news, which was reported by Dow Jones. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Dow Jones story also noted that the Justice Department and AT&T are “discussing possible settlement terms that would lead to the deal winning government approval with conditions attached.”

These arrangements, known as consent decrees, are common for mergers.

AT&T announced its intent to purchase Time Warner just over a year ago. CNN is a unit of Time Warner. The media company also owns Warner Bros., HBO, TNT and a portfolio of other channels.

The deal is being reviewed by the antitrust division of the Department of Justice. AT&T representatives have been in talks with U.S. officials about the terms of the consent decree for months.

Dow Jones said the Justice Department is “actively considering” an antitrust lawsuit, but said no decision has been made.

It is not unusual for the DOJ to negotiate with a company while preparing a potential lawsuit on a parallel track.

AT&T executives have already planned for a potential legal challenge to the deal. The executives say a vertical integration of this kind — combining a wireless giant with a entertainment and news provider — does not pose an antitrust threat and does not harm competition in the marketplace.

Thursday’s news is likely to rekindle concerns about possible Trump administration interference in the pending deal.

On the campaign trail, President Trump publicly vowed to block the merger. He frequently criticizes CNN on Twitter and in public appearances.

But the Justice Department has historically reviewed mergers and acquisitions with an independent eye, looking at the long-term effects on consumers, not the current president’s feuds.

Regulatory bodies in more than a dozen other countries have already given their approvals to the deal. The U.S. is the final country from which AT&T needs approval.

AT&T and Time Warner executives have previously said that they expect the deal to close and take effect by the end of the year.

CNNMoney (New York) First published November 2, 2017: 11:16 AM ET

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