×

AT&T CEO Stephenson says he never offered to sell CNN and is ready to litigate Time Warner deal

  • AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson insisted on Thursday that the company was not told it had to sell CNN in order to get approval for its merger with Time Warner.
  • "There is absolutely no intention that we would ever sell CNN," he said.
  • Stephenson's comments came a day after the finger-pointing over whether the Justice Department demanded as a condition of approving AT&T's $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner that CNN parent Turner Broadcasting or Direct TV be sold off.
  • "If we feel like litigation is a better outcome, then we will litigate," he added.

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson insisted on Thursday that the company was not told it had to sell CNN in order to get approval for its merger with Time Warner.

"I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN, period. And likewise I have never offered to sell CNN," he said. "There is absolutely no intention that we would ever sell CNN."

Stephenson spoke at The New York Times DealBook Conference in New York City on Thursday.

Stephenson's comments came a day after the finger-pointing over whether the Justice Department demanded as a condition of approving AT&T's $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner that CNN parent Turner Broadcasting or Direct TV be sold off.

Time Warner owns Turner Broadcasting. AT&T owns Direct TV.

The Justice Department pushed back Thursday on allegations it is trying to get AT&T to sell CNN and other properties. Instead, the DOJ presented AT&T with several options by which it might be willing to satisfy antitrust concerns, but never demanded a CNN sale, a government official familiar with the discussions told CNBC.

Stephenson said selling CNN goes against one of the key things AT&T is trying to accomplish with the merger — boosting its advertising capability.

"There is a lot of information and data that we think can be used to stand up a new advertising business. Pairing that with the Turner advertising inventory is a really powerful thing, we believe. That is what we aspire to do. Selling CNN makes no sense in that context," he said.

While Stephenson was emphatic about not selling CNN, he refused to say whether Direct TV was a subject of discussion with the DOJ.

Instead, he stressed the "confidential" nature of the negotiations.

Meanwhile, if the issue did head to court, Stephenson said his team is prepared.

"We have been working very diligently on a litigation strategy and a litigation plan," he said. "If we get to a place, we'll have to ask ourselves — is a negotiated settlement a better or worse outcome than if we litigate. If we feel like litigation is a better outcome, then we will litigate."

— CNBC's Jeff Cox contributed to this report.