Barr: Not Sure Why Antitrust Didn't Take AT&T-TW Arguments Seriously

Attorney General nominee William Barr told the Senate Tuesday (Jan. 15) he was concerned that the Justice Department's antitrust division was not engaging in some of AT&T-Time Warner's arguments (about why the merger did not violate antitrust).

That came in response to questioning from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) at his nomination hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barr reiterated that he would recuse himself from any matters related to Justice's ongoing legal challenge of that merger. Barr was a member of the Time Warner board and filed an affidavit challenging DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim's characterization of a meeting about the deal where Barr was also in attendance.

The affidavit also raised questions about whether Justice was taking the merits of AT&T-TW's arguments for the deal seriously and whether the President's animus toward the deal was a factor.

Barr said in that affidavit that Delrahim's version was "inaccurate and incomplete," and that his discomfort at that meeting stemmed from Barr's concerns that "Mr. Delrahim's position about the alleged harms from the merger and his inexplicable...rejection of remedies short of extreme divestitures were the product not of a well-versed substantive analysis, but rather political or other motivation."

Klobuchar asked what Barr meant by that and whether he meant the President's historic antipathy toward CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.

Barr said he was not sure why the antitrust division acted the way it did, but that what he meant was that he was concerned that the department "was not engaging" with some of the companies' arguments.

On another subject, Barr declined to rule out jailing reporters "for doing their jobs." He said he could conceive of situations where as a last resort and where a news organization had "run through a red flag" and where "putting out that stuff will hurt the country," a journalist could be held in contempt. Klobuchar said she would follow up with him on that point and whether the laws needed to be changed. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.