World Bulletin / News Desk
The $85.4 billion merger was announced in October 2016 and AT&T has long said it expected the deal to be completed by the end of 2017.
But AT&T’s Chief Financial Officer John Stephens told investors at a conference that approval by federal regulators is not as assured as previously thought.
"We are in active discussions with the DOJ [Department of Justice],” Stephens said. “Those are continuing on. I can't comment on those discussions. But with those discussions, I can now say that the timing of the closing of the deal is now uncertain.”
The Justice Department has the power to approve mergers with or without conditions. It can also sue to block acquisitions on anti-trust grounds.
Stephens said he thought the deal may not close until early 2018.
The deal, which would give AT&T ownership of CNN, HBO and a collection of other channels, has been widely criticized by President Donald Trump as a merger that would be a concentration of too much power for one company.
Unidentified sources told media outlets the Justice Department is pushing AT&T to offload certain assets for sale for the deal to be approved.
Specifically, reports charge that the federal agency wants AT&T and Time Warner to offer the CNN network for sale.
The network has been a favorite target for Trump, who has called it “fake news” because of its coverage of his presidential campaign and administration.
If the White House is trying to use the merger to gain leverage on media coverage, Democrats and other critics have said it sends a chilling message about how Trump views freedom of the press.
“Any political interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable," Senator Amy Klobuchar wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in July after reports the Justice Department was trying to muzzle CNN using the merger as leverage.
"Even more concerning, in this instance, is that it appears that some advisers to the President may believe that it is appropriate for the government to use its law enforcement authority to alter or censor the press,” she said. “Such an action would violate the First Amendment."
The legality of the Justice Department’s ability to pressure AT&T about CNN is unclear and would likely lead to lawsuits.
If the merger is litigated, it is possible Trump’s own comments about CNN could be used in court.
A Justice Department spokesman told Anadolu Agency the agency "is committed to carrying out its duties in accordance with the laws and the facts.
"Beyond that, the Department does not comment on any pending investigation,” it said.