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The U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit to block AT&T Inc. from buying Time Warner Inc. will go to trial March 19, making it impossible for the companies to close the deal by their self-imposed deadline.
Judge Richard Leon said Thursday the companies should extend their April 22 cutoff date by 60 to 90 days to give him more time to make a decision.
Under their current agreement, if AT&T and Time Warner fail to complete their deal by April 22, they can choose to extend the deadline or either party can walk away. If the judge blocks the deal, AT&T must pay Time Warner a breakup fee of $500 million.
An AT&T spokesman didn’t have an immediate comment.
The Justice Department sued to block AT&T’s $85.4 billion takeover of Time Warner Nov. 20, saying the merger would harm American consumers and mean higher television bills and fewer innovative entertainment options.
The legal challenge — the first major antitrust enforcement action to be brought by the Trump administration — dealt a blow to a tie-up that appeared to be sailing toward approval as recently as October.
Makan Delrahim, the new head of the antitrust division under the Trump administration, had pushed for a sale of either Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting division, which owns cable channels including CNN, TNT and Turner Sports, or DirecTV, the satellite provider AT&T bought in 2015.
AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said he wasn’t willing to sell CNN to appease Washington and promised to fight the lawsuit, setting the two sides up for a court battle that’s likely to extend several months into next year.
AT&T had sought a Feb. 20 date for the trial while government attorneys countered with May 7.
— With assistance by Scott Moritz