Campaign promises don’t equal presidential policy.
While the president-elect railed against companies like NBCUniversal and Amazon for being too big and threatened antitrust action during his campaign, the advisers Trump named today to help oversee his FCC and Justice Department transitions have a history of being very pro-industry and anti-regulation, particularly when it comes to mergers.
That’s good news for AT&T’s $85 billion bid for Time Warner, despite what Trump said on the trail. The merger is currently under review by antitrust regulators at the Justice Department, where a decision will probably not be reached until Trump is in office.
Jeff Eisenach, who Trump officially named today to help transition the FCC under his presidency, has supported major media mergers proposed in recent years.
When Comcast was considering a Time Warner takeover in 2013, Eisenach wrote, “The best thing that could happen for U.S. consumers would be substantial consolidation in the cable business.”
And when AT&T wanted to purchase T-Mobile in 2011, Eisenach likewise argued in favor of the merger, pointing out, “The wireless market is extremely competitive.”
Of Trump’s three new advisers for the transition of the Justice Department — J. Patrick Rowan, Jessie Liu and Ronald Tenpas — none specialize in mergers and acquisitions, but all three have extensive experience in helping large, private companies navigate the U.S. regulatory landscape. Rowan has helped counsel at least one sale of a U.S. telecom company to a foreign buyer, according to his law firm’s website.
In October, Trump said that he would block the AT&T and Time Warner merger if he became president. “As an example of the power structure I’m fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” he said at a Pennsylvania rally.
But considering Trump is bringing so many pro-industry, pro-merger and anti-regulatory heads in to advise him, the president-elect’s stance against the merger may shift.
In a comment right after the election, AT&T CFO John Stephens said he was looking forward to working with the Trump transition team and that many of Trump’s policies “fit right in with AT&T’s goals.”
* Comcast’s NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Recode parent company Vox Media.