Federal judge approves AT&T-Time Warner merger

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AT&T's politically charged takeover of Time Warner was approved by a USA judge on Tuesday in a blow to the Trump administration which had fought hard to have the deal scrapped. The Justice Department sued to block the deal from going through in November of 2017, arguing that it would limit competition and raise prices.

Leon rejected the notion of temporarily suspending the merger for a possible appeal by the government.

Already one deal depends on the ruling: Comcast Corp said in May that it was preparing a higher, all-cash offer for most of the media assets of Twenty-First Century Fox, but sources say it will only proceed if AT&T wins its case.

The deal is set to unite AT&T's significant wireless, satellite television and internet business with Time Warner's media properties, which include HBO and CNN. "We continue to believe that the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner". Most immediately, Disney's bid to buy a chunk of 21st Century Fox may be impacted as the ruling could encourage Comcast to put forward a competing bid, as it has already announced it might do.

Critics charged that Trump had come out against the deal because of Time Warner's CNN, which has been highly critical of his presidency.

David McAtee, AT&T's general counsel, said AT&T (T) expected to close the deal by June 20.

A big win for the Justice Department would send shudders down the spines of M&A bankers pursuing deals where a company seeks to merge with a supplier.

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The decision by Judge Richard Leon is a setback for Makan Delrahim, President Trump appointee to the top spot in the Justice Department's antitrust division, challenging his view of antitrust laws in the digital era.

The Justice Department has not brought a suit seeking to stop a vertical merger - whereby companies operating in different spaces combine - since 1979. He rejected the government's argument that it would hurt competition in pay TV and cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars more to stream TV and movies. If AT&T and Time Warner win, it will likely be full steam ahead.

The fate of the AT&T-Time Warner merger, a massive media deal opposed by the government that could shape how much consumers pay for streaming TV and movies, rests in the hands of a federal judge.

The case was closely watched by telecom and media industry analysts, corporate executives, and Wall Street.

On the campaign trail in October 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump spoke in Gettysburg, Pa.

During the trial, the judge heard from dozens of witnesses, including AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes.

"We think the evidence throughout the trial was quite clear and we're very pleased that the court saw it the same way", said Daniel Petrocelli, AT&T's lawyer. AT&T wasn't on board, saying, "Divestitures here would destroy the very consumer value this merger is created to unlock".

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