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Justice department to appeal against AT&T's $81bn takeover of Time Warner

Dominic Rushe in New York

Government to challenge blockbuster deal despite federal judge’s ruling that opposition to merger rested on ‘improper notions’

The justice department said in a one-sentence document it would be appealing against the ruling. Photograph: Richard Drew/AP

The US justice department announced on Thursday that it will appeal against a federal judge’s decision to allow AT&T’s landmark takeover of Time Warner.

Last month, in a stinging rebuke to the Trump administration, district judge Richard Leon threw out the government’s objections to the merger and warned the department not to appeal against his decision.

AT&T’s $81bn takeover of Time Warner, the owner of CNN and HBO among other high-profile assets, has become a political lightning rod after Donald Trump criticized the deal and said it “was not good for the country”.

But in June Leon ruled that the government’s objections “rested on improper notions” and warned against an appeal. “I hope the government has the wisdom and courage” not to seek a stay, he said.

Leon rejected all of the government’s arguments against the deal, one of the largest media mergers ever.

On Thursday, AT&T said: “The court’s decision could hardly have been more thorough, fact-based and well researched.” It said it was “surprised” by the government’s decision and “ready to defend the court’s decision”.

Media commentators suggested Trump was critical of the deal because of his antipathy for CNN, which has lambasted his presidency and is a regular target for his Twitter attacks. Trump has praised Rupert Murdoch’s decision to pursue a merger with Walt Disney, calling Murdoch to tell him “that this could be a great thing for jobs,” according to the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders.

Asked about CNN’s potential role in the merger’s difficulties, AT&T’s chief executive officer, Randall Stephenson, said: “Frankly, I don’t know. But nobody should be surprised that the question keeps coming up.”

The case was further politicized after it emerged that AT&T had paid Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen $600,000 in consultancy fees as it attempted to woo the White House. Stephenson said the hiring had been “a big mistake”.