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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios 

A number of major media deals are facing uncertain futures since the Justice Department unexpectedly sued to block the $85 billion AT&T merger with Time Warner in November.

Why it matters: Before the DOJ lawsuit, the deals landscape within the Trump administration was vibrant. The unexpected litigation is slowing that momentum at a time when media companies are looking to consolidate to survive.

"I believe we're likely to see ongoing consolidation in the content industry but the level and intensity of dealmaking will very much depend upon the outcome of the AT&T-Time Warner trial," says Gene Kimmelman, President and CEO of Public Knowledge and former Chief Counsel for the DOJ's Antitrust Division.

  • Deal volumes during Trump’s first year as President were up 8% and 29% from the last two years of Obama’s presidency, respectively.
  • Sources say the feeling of renewed confidence from dealmakers has come to a screeching halt now that the DOJ is looking to block a merger that most thought would go through.
  • Judges typically don't like merger litigation because it forces them to predict the future and their job is to determine liability based on past facts.
"In a horizontal merger, (like the one between Disney and Fox), where two likeminded companies combine, they overcome this a bit because there's clear precedent set. But that's missing in vertical merger. No vertical merger law has passed since the 1970s."
— DC antitrust lawyer and former DOJ antitrust trial attorney David Balto

The political nature of The President's involvement with high-profile deals could also affect billions of dollars of deals to come. Sources say it's absolutely plausible to think that the Presidents' personal vendetta against CNN could impact the deal landscape, but that the current antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim

  • "My knowledge of Makan Delrahim is that he's going to call balls and strikes right down the middle," says Balto. "Antitrust enforcement works best when it does not have a political dimension to it."

What's next: Kimmelman says that if AT&T prevails in its lawsuit with the DOJ, "I worry the floodgates will be opened to massive transmission and content consolidation that could lock in control over media in a few hands for decades to come."

Go Deeper: Media megadeals to watch in 2018

Want to get smarter about deals and dealmakers shaping M&A and VC conversations? Sign up for Axios' Pro Rata newsletter authored by Dan Primack.

Go deeper

Updated 16 mins ago - Politics & Policy

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.

The new grifters: outrage profiteers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As Republicans lost the Senate and narrowly missed retaking the House, millions of dollars in grassroots donations were diverted to a handful of 2020 congressional campaigns challenging high-profile Democrats that, realistically, were never going to succeed.

Why it matters: Call it the outrage-industrial complex. Slick fundraising consultants market candidates contesting some of their party’s most reviled opponents. Well-meaning donors pour money into dead-end campaigns instead of competitive contests. The only winner is the consultants.