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FCC chair says White House lawyer asked about status of Sinclair deal

Federal Communications Commission Chairman. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House's top lawyer made contact with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to inquire about its review of the purchase of Tribune Media stations by the conservative broadcaster Sinclair, Pai told a Senate committee on Thursday.

Why it matters: The FCC — and merger reviews generally — are supposed to be independent from the White House. Pai explained, "no one has called from the White House to express a view. We received one status inquiry."

The details: Pai said he spoke with McGahn on July 16 or July 17. On July 16, Pai expressed "serious concerns" about the deal and moved to send parts of the transaction to an administrative law judge in a move that can prove fatal for a merger. Tribune has since dropped out of the deal and is suing Sinclair.

  • "He saw something in the news and wanted to know what our decision was — or what the [proposed] action was," Pai said. "He just wanted to know what it was."
  • McGahn made the call after the chairman had gone public with his concerns, according to an FCC spokesperson.

President Trump criticized Pai over his decision on the deal in a tweet on July 24.

  • "So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune," Trump said. "This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People."
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