Updated Feb 20, 2018

Trump's CNN vendetta could backfire against him

Photo: Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto via Getty Images

AT&T is looking to discredit the Department of Justice's lawsuit to block its proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner by proving that the government's decision is politically motivated. A U.S. district court judge will decide today if they have a case.

Why it matters: If the judge rules in AT&T's favor, it will mean that President Trump's personal and public vendetta against CNN, which is owned by Time Warner, is working against him.

Where it stands: The judge is currently weighing whether the government is being transparent enough about any communications between the White House and DOJ. The key is whether the White House is attempting to influence the DOJ's decision, which would strengthen AT&T's position in court.

On Friday, AT&T's lawyers argued in court that the government didn't start demanding divestitures of its properties until after Trump was elected.

  • The DOJ is supposed to review mergers independently of the White House so it can assess whether big deals will be good for the public.
  • Sources familiar with the thinking of antitrust lawyers at the DOJ say the decision to block the merger was never political to begin with. Regulators don't think the deal as proposed is good for consumers.
  • But Trump's comments could make it seem political, which would give AT&T ammunition to call out the DOJ for something it likely isn't doing.

Trump's feelings about the AT&T/Time Warner deal are different from his feelings about another pending deal being reviewed by the DOJ between 21st Century Fox and Disney. Although the president has not outwardly addressed either merger, some of his comments and actions allude to his different feelings about the two deals.

  • In a statement the day after AT&T and Time Warner announced the merger, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign said Trump would "break up the new media conglomerate oligopolies" if elected president.
  • The White House wouldn't say whether Trump explicitly supports the Disney-Fox deal, but White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did say he thinks it would be "a great thing for jobs." Analysts say the deal will likely cut jobs.

While the deals are different in nature, Trump's public attacks against CNN and support for Fox News could make it seem as though his support corroborates the actions of the DOJ.

The irony is that if Trump never meddled with any of the the cases being reviewed, the DOJ's decisions likely would support the outcomes he wants. But now his actions are being used against the DOJ, which is otherwise trying to evaluate these mergers for completely different reasons.

Get more stories like this by signing up for our weekly media newsletter, Axios Media Trends. 

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 664,695 — Total deaths: 30,847 — Total recoveries: 140,156.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 124,464 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by late Saturday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health

Trump rules out quarantine in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut after pushback

President Trump on the White House grounds on Saturdya. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Saturday night that he's decided not to introduce quarantine enforcement measures fo New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut, but a "strong" travel advisory will be issued for those states. The CDC later announced domestic travel restrictions for the states.

Why it matters: Trump said hours earlier he was considering quarantine measures to combat the rise in novel coronavirus cases. But he received pushback, notably from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who told CNN such a measure would cause "chaos." "This would be a federal declaration of war on states," Cuomo added.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 5 hours ago - Health