Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Richard Leon is the U.S. District Court judge last in this space for approving AT&T's purchase of Time Warner, over the objections of U.S. antitrust regulators. Now he's threatening to scuttle another mega-deal that not only received regulatory approval, but which actually closed last week: CVS Health's $69 billion purchase of health insurer Aetna.

Details: Leon last week suggested that the government was treating him as a "rubber stamp," and yesterday again refused to sign off on the deal. Per yesterday's order: "At this stage, I am less convinced of the sufficiency of the government’s negotiated remedy than the government is."

  • He wants both the government and companies to file briefs by next Friday (Dec. 14), arguing why he shouldn't suspend the merger until he approves the agreement reached between those parties (which included a since-completed requirement that Aetna sell its Medicare Part D plan to WellCare).

Yes, Leon could effectively order the egg to be unscrambled, assuming he disagrees with the incoming legal briefs. But it would be extremely complicated, as the companies already have begun integrating — something he recently warned should be slowed down — and his actual ruling might not ultimately come until the middle of next year.

  • A more likely scenario is that Leon would demand a partial unscrambling, such as new divestitures. This also is what would be expected if DOJ wins its longshot appeal in the AT&T-Time Warner case.

Go deeper

U.S., Canada and U.K. accuse Russia of trying to steal coronavirus vaccine research

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin\TASS via Getty Images

Hackers associated with Russian intelligence services are trying to steal information from researchers involved in coronavirus vaccine development, according to a joint advisory by U.K., U.S. and Canadian authorities published Thursday.

The big picture: This isn't the first time a foreign adversary has been accused of attempting to steal COVID-19-related research. U.S. officials in May announced an uptick in Chinese-government affiliated hackers targeting medical research and other facilities in the U.S. for data on a potential cure or effective treatments to combat the virus.

M&A activity falls despite early coronavirus fears

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In April, several prominent Democrats proposed a moratorium on large mergers and acquisitions. Their argument was that the pandemic would embolden the strong to pounce on the weak, thus reducing competition.

Fast forward: The moratorium never materialized. Nor did the M&A feeding frenzy.

More than 32 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits

Photo: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

More than 32 million Americans are receiving some form of unemployment benefits, according to data released by the Labor Department on Thursday.

Why it matters: Tens of millions of jobless Americans will soon have a smaller cash cushion — as coronavirus cases surge and certain parts of the country re-enter pandemic lockdowns — barring an extension of the more generous unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of the month.