The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

A stunning new report in The New Yorker magazine on the incestuous ties between Fox News Channel and the Trump White House reveals that the president personally attempted to block the merger of Time-Warner and AT&T — presumably at the behest of Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch — by misusing his power over the Justice Department.

At 10,000 words-plus, reporter Jane Mayer’s article, “The Making of the Fox News White House,” is replete with fresh new details depicting Trump’s dependency on Fox hosts for policy advice — he speaks almost daily with Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs has been patched into Oval Office meetings — as well as the bizarre symbiosis between Fox staff and White House personnel. She explores the role of Bill Shine, the White House communications chief who served under the late Roger Ailes at Fox, covering up Ailes’ brutal sexual misconduct for years. She reveals that Fox News executives killed the devastating story of Michael Cohen’s payoffs to Stormy Daniels, months before the 2016 election, despite overwhelming evidence unearthed by a Fox correspondent.

And Mayer discusses Trump’s servility toward Murdoch, who wields enormous influence over the administration, even though the president knows that the media boss condescends to him.

It is his administration’s relentless efforts to advance the business interests of the Murdoch empire that could get Trump into serious trouble, as multiple investigations of the White House move forward. According to Mayer, the president ordered Gary Cohn, then a top White House economic adviser, to tell the Justice Department to file anti-trust litigation against a merger between AT&T and Fox competitor Time Warner (also the parent company of CNN, the cable network Trump constantly derides as “fake news”).

Her account begins with the backstory:

Last June, after only six months of deliberation, the Trump Administration approved Fox’s bid to sell most of its entertainment assets to Disney, for seventy-one billion dollars. The Murdoch family will receive more than two billion dollars in the deal, and will become a major stockholder in the combined company. The Justice Department expressed no serious antitrust concerns, even though the combined company will reportedly account for half the box-office revenue in America. Trump publicly congratulated Murdoch even before the Justice Department signed off on the deal, and claimed that it would create jobs. In fact, the consolidation is projected to result in thousands of layoffs…

The Justice Department, meanwhile, went to court in an effort to stop A. T. & T.’s acquisition of Time Warner, which owns CNN. Time Warner saw the deal as essential to its survival at a time when the media business is increasingly dominated by giant competitors such as Google and Facebook. Murdoch understood this impulse: in 2014, 21st Century Fox had tried, unsuccessfully, to buy Time Warner. For him, opposing his rivals’ deal was a matter of shrewd business. Trump also opposed the deal, but many people suspected that his objection was a matter of petty retaliation against CNN. Although Presidents have traditionally avoided expressing opinions about legal matters pending before the judicial branch, Trump has bluntly criticized the plan. The day after the Justice Department filed suit to stop it, he declared the proposed merger “not good for the country.” Trump also claimed that he was “not going to get involved,” and the Justice Department has repeatedly assured the public that he hasn’t done so.

However, in the late summer of 2017, a few months before the Justice Department filed suit, Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene. According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”

Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage, and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, “Don’t you fucking dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.”

Did Trump deliver his biggest favor for Murdoch by abusing his office? As one expert quoted by Mayer says, there may be “innocent” explanations for the Justice Department’s pursuit of litigation against Time Warner. Last month, a federal court ruled against the government.

Neither Kelly nor Cohn agreed to be interviewed for Mayer’s story. But they may not so easily ignore a call from a Congressional committee or a federal grand jury.

Read the entire article here.


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

{{ }}