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The Justice Department pushed back Thursday on allegations that it is trying to get AT&T to sell CNN and other properties as part of its plans to acquire Time Warner. In another strange twist to the deal, AT&T's CEO backed up that account.
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.
The official called the accusation that the government was trying to force a CNN sale "shocking" and countered that AT&T was attempting to make the matter political.
"They're trying to make this a political issue. It's not," the official said.
The government suggested that AT&T sell either Turner, which owns CNN, or Direct TV, the official added.
In an unusual back and forth played out in the media, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company would not consider divesting CNN. Stephenson himself gave credence to Thursday's statements out of the DOJ.
"I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN," Stephenson said at the DealBook conference in New York.
Sources had told CNBC that the government had demanded a sale of the Turner properties or Direct TV to approve of the deal.
The Justice official said the department would prefer that AT&T abandon the deal altogether. Failing that, the department would like to see a sale of either Turner or Direct TV — but also is open to other ideas that would satisfy antitrust concerns.