WASHINGTON (CN) - An advocacy group for journalists claims in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Wednesday in a case involving AT&T's planned acquisition of Time Warner that a judge's denial of requests for Trump administration correspondence on the matter could impair media outlets' future efforts to defend themselves against White House interference.
The U.S. Justice Department has filed an antitrust suit against AT&T, Time Warner, and DirectTV, saying a merger of the media giants would hurt competition. A federal judge in Washington has since denied AT&T’s request for communications records between the department and the White House.
According to the court filing, AT&T’s goal was to determine if President Trump played a role in the Justice Department decision to oppose the merger.
When Trump campaigned for the presidency, one of his promises was to attempt to stop the deal between the telecom and media company, saying it wouldn’t be good for the country.
After a judge dismissed the DOJ’s case, allowing the $85 billion merger to continue, the department filed an appeal in a bid to revive its case.
In its amicus brief, the Reporters Committee argues that the precedent set by denying AT&T access to the documents could make it challenging for future news organizations to obtain documents in discovery in future cases.
“The Reporters Committee has an interest in ensuring that retaliatory motive is not infecting regulatory enforcement decisions that affect the press,” the brief states. “This interest is heightened today in light of the president’s manifest animus toward journalists and news outlets that he perceives as critical.”
While the President’s threats to the media, particularly CNN, vary, “they converge around a single censorial theme,” the brief states. “That is, the president wants to—and will—use the levers of state power to punish news organizations he sees as adversarial to his interests.”
The Reporters Committee also notes this is the first time in 40 years the DOJ has legally interfered with a merger between “non-competitors.”
A nonprofit dedicated to “assisting journalists,” the Reporters Committee said that while it doesn’t have a position on the AT&T and Time Warner Merger, it’s concerned about President Trump politically influencing the merger.
“Given the negative implications that the district court's ruling could have on the exercise of First Amendment rights, [the Reporters Committee] is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to ‘clarify the standard for discovery in selective enforcement cases that implicate the 'suppress[ion of] protected expression,’” the Reporters Committee states in a press release.
Megan Ketterer, a spokeswoman for AT&T, declined to comment on the committee's filing.
In an email to Courthouse News, Jeremy, Edwards, a DOJ spokesman, said, "as we have stated previously, this was a red herring tactic by the defendants in this case that makes no sense.
"The DOJ produced all communications between the Antitrust division and the White House.," Edwards continued. "Further, we have stated, including in court, that the DOJ has not been instructed by the White House on this or any other transaction under review by the antitrust division. Furthermore, the competition the DOJ wants to protect in this case would see Turner’s content, including CNN, distributed far and wide. This merger, as DOJ argued, would do the exact opposite, by threatening to limit the distribution of must have content and ultimately raising prices for consumers.”
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