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Judge approves AT&T acquisition of Time Warner

The ruling is a major blow for the Trump administration, which opposed the deal and sued to block it.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

AT&T's may proceed with its $85 billion purchase of Time Warner, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled Tuesday, opening the door for the creation of a telecom-media giant.

The judge imposed no conditions on the merger.

The ruling is a major blow for the Trump administration, which opposed the deal. The Justice Department sued to block it, alleging the takeover would harm competition, increase prices for consumers, and reduce innovation.

In a statement, US Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said the Justice Department will closely review the ruling and consider its next steps.

"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," he said.

AT&T General Counsel David McAtee said in a statement that AT&T looks forward to closing the merger on or before June 20, "so we can begin to give consumers video entertainment that is more affordable, mobile, and innovative."

The ruling could have an impact on future anti-trust cases, and it could spur more deals in the fast-consolidating media industry. For instance, Comcast is reportedly considering a rival bid for the Fox assets that the Walt Disney Co. is set to buy.

In his nearly 200-page opinion, Judge Leon said that if the government asked him to stay the court order while the Justice Department appealed the case -- in other words, to keep the merger on hold during the appeals process -- he would refuse to do so. Were he to grant a stay during the appeals process, the merger would not be completed before the June 21 "break-up date" for the deal.

"The consequences of receiving such a stay would cause irreparable harm" the defendants, Leon wrote. By contrast, he argued that the Justice Department's appeal would not be harmed without a stay. Should DOJ win its appeal, the Circuit Court would have no qualms about unwinding the merger, Leon wrote.

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