Just moments after a federal judge ruled for AT&T in the government’s lawsuit seeking to block its $85 billion merger with Time Warner, lead defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli described the ruling as long-overdue validation.
“The judge’s decision categorically rejects the government’s bid to block this historic merger,” he said. “The case stands as a testament to the wisdom of the combination of these two great companies and how it will benefit consumers to generations to come.”
Standing in front of dozens of reporters and several TV cameras outside the U.S. District Courthouse late this afternoon, Petrocelli largely took the high road. He declined to pin blame on President Donald Trump for purposely bringing the suit as retribution against his longtime media foe, CNN, or do any kind of a touchdown dance. Reflecting on the lawsuit being filed out of the blue last fall, with the merger seen as days away from final approval, Petrocelli did not speculate on the true motive. It has been widely speculated, though never proven, that Trump had instigated the antitrust action as payback for CNN’s coverage of him — a theory the defense was barred from looking into during the trial.
“We were not able to ascertain what the decision-making process was” leading up to the suit, he said. “We were surprised when this case was brought and, as I said in closing arguments, it’s a case that should never have been brought.”
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and his Time Warner counterpart, Jeff Bewkes, did not attend today’s hearing. John Stankey, the AT&T exec who is overseeing the transition, was in attendance but he did not speak to reporters. The lone spokesman was Petrocelli, a high-profile attorney whose claim to fame is not antitrust law, a fact that had led some observers to question his initial selection.
During the trial, which lasted about six weeks, from March to early May, Petrocelli’s assertive style appeared to be effectively poking holes in the government’s case. After the decision, Petrocelli expressed no emotion more than simple relief, after an odyssey of red tape that has lasted more than a year and a half, including eight months of legal purgatory.
“We’re disappointed that it took 18 months to get here but we are relieved that it is finally behind us and we look forward to finally closing this transaction in the coming days,” he said.
“I’ve been asked about the significance of this deal on other deals pending in the marketplace,” Petrocelli added. “My answer to that is that each and every one of those transactions stands on its own, as this one did. The court made it clear that the decision was grounded in the facts and evidence presented at trial.”
Asked about Judge Richard J. Leon’s admonition of Department of Justice attorneys not to request a stay, further delaying the deal pending appeal, Petrocelli said AT&T and Time Warner are focused on moving forward. The megadeal will close on or before June 20, he said.
“The court recognized that the defendants had been subjected to this interminable delay,” he said. “I think we’re up to 600 days since the merger was announced back in October of 2016 and that it’s unfair to the defendants and the hundreds of thousands of employees of the companies, whose lives have been hanging in the balance.”
One reporter asked about another often-rumored scenario, that the deal closing would involve the shedding of assets. “There will be no divestment of any of the assets,” he said. “The government sought to block the merger in its entirety and that motion was denied in its entirety.”
As to whether he had ever seriously considered settling the case, which is the first antitrust trial involving a vertical merger in decades, Petrocelli was unwavering. “The government simply had no credible evidence,” he said. Over the course of the trial, he added, “the case shrunk and shrunk and shrunk until there was nothing there.”