By Thomas Gryta
Randall Stephenson, the chairman and chief executive of AT&T Inc., visited Trump Tower in New York on Thursday morning to meet with an incoming president who has expressed concerns about the company's proposed purchase of Time Warner Inc.
After spending about an hour in Trump Tower offices, Mr. Stephenson and Robert Quinn, the company's top executive in Washington, D.C., declined to comment after they left the building.
President-elect Donald Trump vowed before his election to block the $85 billion merger, which would combine the company's biggest pay-TV provider with one of the biggest media companies.
At a campaign rally in October, Mr. Trump said the deal was " too much concentration of power in the hands of too few" and called the merger "an example of the power structure I am fighting." He hasn't spoken publicly on the matter since winning the election.
In testimony before Congress, Mr. Stephenson defended the transaction as increasing competition but said he hadn't yet discussed it with Mr. Trump. "It would be a gross mistake to view this transaction as anything but pro-competitive," Mr. Stephenson said.
Investors have been skeptical about the combination, with shares of Time Warner trading at a discount to AT&T's original $107.50 offer price. On Thursday, Time Warner shares rose 21 cents, to $93.90, while AT&T shares added 11 cents, to $40.72.
Mr. Trump's criticism of mainstream media -- especially CNN, which is owned by Time Warner -- has been a wild card in the review process, people close to AT&T have said. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump refused to take questions from a CNN reporter at a press conference. "You're fake news. Your organization is terrible," Mr. Trump said in a testy exchange with the CNN reporter.
Thursday morning, around the same time that the AT&T executives arrived at Trump Tower, Mr. Trump wrote on his Twitter account: "@CNN is in a total meltdown with their FAKE NEWS because their ratings are tanking since election and their credibility will soon be gone!"
AT&T executives have vowed to safeguard CNN's editorial independence.
While Mr. Trump won't have the power to veto the deal, its success may rest on the antitrust views of Sen. Jeff Sessions, his nominee for attorney general, and his selection for Justice Department antitrust chief. Mr. Trump will also get to appoint the head of the Federal Communications Commission.
AT&T executives havesaid they are confident the transaction would be approved on antitrust grounds as the two companies aren't direct competitors. Justice Department staffers have begun reviewing the deal and in December requested additional information from the company.
Write to Thomas Gryta at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 12, 2017 11:32 ET (16:32 GMT)
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