The company’s request for the antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, to testify is highly unusual. By putting Delrahim on the witness list, AT&T is effectively forcing him to defend his own decision to oppose the blockbuster merger. The trial over the Justice Department’s lawsuit to stop the deal is scheduled to begin March 19.
“I never heard of something like that happening in my time there,” said John M. Newman, an assistant professor of antitrust law at the University of Memphis School of Law and a former trial lawyer for the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “It’s a big nasty move to poke a finger at the other side by calling its counsel as a witness.”
Delrahim was included in a list of witnesses submitted to the court by AT&T in recent days, according to two people with knowledge about the company’s demands, who asked to remain anonymous because the details were confidential. AT&T has also asked for internal communications between Delrahim’s office and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, they said. As part of that request, AT&T has also asked for e-mail, phone and other communications between the White House and officials in the Justice Department, the people said.
AT&T and Time Warner announced their $85 billion deal in October 2016. If completed, it would create a media and telecom giant with AT&T’s wireless and satellite television service and Time Warner’s movies and television assets. The combination is expected to transform the media landscape and set up the company to have a powerful grip over how consumers get streaming entertainment over mobile devices.
But the Justice Department sued to block the merger in November. Delrahim and other officials said the combination of telecom and media giants would harm competition and lead to higher prices for consumers.
The case has also been clouded by politics. Time Warner owns CNN, and President Donald Trump has at times taken aim at the news network for its coverage of his administration. During his 2016 presidential campaign, he said the merger should be blocked.
AT&T has not directly mentioned the potential of political interference by the White House in Delrahim’s actions against AT&T and Time Warner. But AT&T’s chief executive, Randall L. Stephenson, has publicly questioned the motives of officials at the Justice Department.
Antitrust regulators are required to make decisions independently of the White House. Delrahim has denied any interference in the decision to block the merger.
The Justice Department has also submitted a list of witnesses, along with other documents from AT&T and Time Warner, said the people.