Government's holdup of AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner worries some

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However, according to the USA news site Wired, it's not clear whether the DoJ could successfully block the merger. The AT&T-Time Warner deal is a "vertical merger", which consolidates two companies, but does not eliminate a competitor.

Another source, however, told Reuters that Murdoch has "zero interest" in acquiring CNN.

"I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN, period", Stephenson said at a conference Thursday. The Justice official said no decision on the deal has been reached yet and that conversations continue.

The DOJ's hardline approach to AT&T - belying the business-friendly image of the Trump administration - has spurred questions about Trump's personal interest in the deal, given his feelings about CNN's coverage of his presidency. Requiring AT&T to sell either Turner or DirecTV would be in line with Delrahim's thinking. The White House has also said that Trump has not spoken to Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the matter, nor were any White House officials authorized to speak to DOJ on it.

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AT&T had previously targeted the end of the year for closing the deal, and Wall Street analysts had widely expected the deal to go through. As a candidate, Trump vowed to block the deal shortly after it was announced, but has not addressed the issue publicly as president. AT&T announced plans previous year to purchase Time Warner to create a juggernaut with more than 142 million mobile subscribers and a major player in pay TV broadcasting via DirecTV. Several Democratic lawmakers have also pushed back against the combination.

Delrahim has said he prefers "structural" changes to a deal, like selling off assets, rather than having the government monitor a company's promises to abide by certain conditions, as was done with Comcast.

In court, AT&T would have the upper hand, said Geoffrey Manne, executive director of Portland-based think tank International Center for Law and Economics.

"We have been working very diligently on a litigation strategy and a litigation plan", he said, adding: "We would obviously ask for an expedited hearing". The Department of Justice said it does not comment on pending investigations, but that it was "committed to carrying out its duties in accordance with the laws and the facts".