Stephenson: AT&T Is Ready to Fight for Time Warner Deal

AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson continued to hammer home that he would not sell key assets to facilitate regulatory approval of his pending deal to buy Time Warner, adding that if the agency rejects the merger, he’s ready to go to court.

“We would have to ask ourselves, is a negotiated settlement a better or worse outcome than if we litigate,” Stephenson said at the New York Times Dealbook conference Thursday. “If we feel like litigation is a better outcome, then we would litigate. If we can get a negotiated settlement, for time, and energy and money you would obviously go with a negotiated settlement.”

But he added that if the government wants to go to court, he hopes it will be soon.

“If we’re going to go to litigation, our preference would be sooner is better,” Stephenson said. “We’re prepared to litigate now.”

Stephenson seemed to chafe most at reports he had offered to sell news network CNN, the object of President Donald Trump’s unwavering consternation, to get the deal done. He added that he has not personally received any pressure from the government to sell the cable news network.

But while the emphasis has been on CNN, early reports on problems with approvals centered on DOJ requesting AT&T sell Turner Broadcasting, CNN’s parent, not just the network.

“Selling CNN makes no sense in the context of what we are trying accomplish,” Stephenson said. But when asked if he would sell DirecTV instead, he hedged a bit, adding that conversations with the DOJ are highly confidential.

“What gets discussed inside that room is highly privileged. I cannot go there,” he said. It’s so important that when you’re in these kind of negotiations with Justice, that they remain confidential because you can’t have open and candid conversations about a negotiated settlement if everything is leaking. What happens inside that room needs to stay inside that room.”

But later, he reiterated that he has no intention of selling any large assets to appease the DOJ.

“You shouldn’t expect us to sell something larger [than CNN],” Stephenson said, adding that pairing Time Warner's content with DirecTV's distribution is a key component of the deal. “It’s illogical. It’s why you did the deal. To suggest selling some of the key franchises makes no sense.”

Reports have suggested that President Trump is pressuring the DOJ to force a sale or spin-off of CNN, a network that he has repeatedly called “fake news.” At the Dealbook conference, CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter asked Stephenson from the audience if he had any reason to believe that the problems the deal is facing at the DOJ are being caused by the President’s interference.

“I have no reason to believe that,” Stephenson said. “My only interaction with anybody in the federal government on this deal, has been with the Department of Justice.”