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In a November 6 letter obtained by Bloomberg, the Justice Department said Delrahim "had no professional or personal connection with, or any non-public information about, the proposed merger then", and noted he told BNN there could be other antitrust issues.

The U.S. Justice Department had demanded substantial sales of assets in order to grant approval of the deal worth $85.4 billion, said sources close to the matter, and has asked AT&T to sell Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN or DirecTV its satellite TV business during discussions Monday.

"I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN". Negotiations between the companies and the Department of Justice have turned so contentious that now both sides are arguing publicly over what the dispute is even about.

The fight over the deal was unexpected and is exploding over CNN, which has come under fire from President Donald Trump. Since he took office during January, Trump has not made any further comment about the deal.

Delrahim's arrival at the Justice Department slowed down the merger review as he got up to speed, people familiar with the matter said last week. "But ... I can now say that the timing of the closing of the deal is now uncertain".

The wireless giant had previously said that it expected the acquisition to take effect by the end of this year.

But Trump's strongly voiced disdain for CNN has raised the spectre of political influence behind the scenes.

The suit says the group is also concerned about Trump targeting other news organizations including threats to revoke broadcast licenses of media networks, hints about using antitrust authorities to punish the owner of The Washington Post and calls for journalists to be fired by their employers.

However, one prominent Democrat said proposing divestitures in the name of preserving competition is exactly what the DOJ should be doing. While lawmakers are calling the uproar political, the Justice Department's new leadership is taking a different view of the anticompetitive issues surrounding the deal than its predecessors under Barack Obama.

AT&T executives have consistently expressed optimism about the deal being approved.

AT&T chief financial officer John Stephens told a conference in NY "there are all kinds of benefits" to the combination and noted that the government has not blocked this kind of vertical tie-up in decades.

However, with CNN being one of those assets, the optics are bad considering the social media war President Donald Trump has waged on the cable news network over its coverage of him. A further sticking point in discussions is the length of time that the US government wants to impose conditions on what AT&T can and cannot do after a deal.

On Wednesday, two conflicting narratives emerged about the pending deal.