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Justice Department weighs appeal in AT&T case it just lost

Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim leaves court
Makan Delrahim after Tuesday's ruling. Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Justice Department has days to decide whether to continue its lengthy fight against AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner — but an appeal may not stop the deal from closing in the meantime.

The bigger picture: DOJ doesn't just have to worry about this deal, but about every future antitrust case where this ruling could constrain its ability to act.

What's next: DOJ is weighing two decisions as it enters the 6-day window before the deal can close:

  1. Should it appeal the ruling against their case?
  2. Should it ask to pause the deal while the longer appellate process moves forward?

This second question is more fraught. If a court stopped the deal from closing, the companies could find the clock has run past the deal's June 21 closing deadline. The deal has a $500 million breakup fee — but Time Warner could negotiate additional compensation if it had to extend the deadline for the deal, notes BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield.

  • Judge Richard J. Leon surprised the courtroom Tuesday when, after announcing his decision, he told the Justice Department it would be "manifestly unjust" for them to ask for a stay, as a hold on the deal before an appeal is known.
  • "The court has spoken," he said.
  • Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department's top antitrust official, was noncommittal about whether he would follow Leon's advice as he left the courthouse after Tuesday's ruling.

The other side: AT&T says it still expects the deal to close ahead of the deadline next week.

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