CNN’s Rick Santorum Willfully Deceives on Trump Interfering in Time Warner-AT&T Merger

CNN’s Rick Santorum Willfully Deceives on Trump Interfering in Time Warner-AT&T Merger

Rick Santorum got something egregiously wrong on CNN on Monday afternoon, which is not unusual. But it is worth noting as an example of how cable news, in its passion for ideological balance, will let obviously misleading talking points go unchallenged.

Santorum was on a panel on The Lead with Jake Tapper when the conversation turned to a passage from Jane Mayer’s big New Yorker story about Fox News’s relationship to the White House.

Mayer touches on some events in the summer of 2017 surrounding the AT&T-Time Warner merger. The Justice Department’s antitrust division at the time was debating whether to file a lawsuit to block the merger. Trump, having campaigned against the merger, wanted to know why the DOJ had not yet taken that step. Here is how she presents the issue:

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, knowing that it would be improper for the White House to pressure the Justice Department to file the lawsuit, told Kelly to ignore the president’s orders, saying “We are not going to do business that way.”

On his show, Tapper noted that this seemed to be an example of “guardrails” around the president working to keep him from violating policy for White House-DOJ interactions. Santorum responded: “Let’s be honest about this. The Justice Department knew the president’s opinion on this. It’s not like he was surreptitiously trying to block this. He campaigned that he was going to do this. I don’t know what the story is here, that he tried to influence the Justice Department. He campaigned he didn’t want this to happen.”

What Santorum, and Tapper, completely ignores here are the reasons Trump may have opposed the merger. Mayer hints that his position may have been influenced both by animosity towards CNN, which is owned by Time Warner, or possibly by Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, who saw the merger as bad for his own business. If Murdoch was pushing Trump to order the DOJ to block the merger, or if Trump did so because of a personal grudge against CNN, that would be obvious corruption, and likely impeachable.

Santorum notes correctly that Trump said during the campaign that he didn’t want the merger to happen. But he leaves the audience with the implication that the president’s motives were altruistic, born of some not-quite-fully-defined belief that the merger was somehow bad for the country. That is simply not what Mayer’s story says at all.

Tapper let the point go, immediately turning to another guest and another topic. Which is too bad, because it would have been interesting to see Santorum tie himself into knots pretending that possible cronyism between Trump and Rupert Murdoch was fine, and doing so on CNN’s airwaves.

Watch the clip at the top of the post, via CNN.

 

Gary Legum

Gary Legum has written about politics and culture for Independent Journal Review, Salon, The Daily Beast, Wonkette, AlterNet and McSweeney's, among others. He currently lives in his native state of Virginia.