Is the Justice Department trying to force a sale of CNN?

AT&T-Time Warner merger

Last Updated Nov 9, 2017 10:42 AM EST

AT&T's merger with Time Warner is far from a done deal. President Trump's Justice Department hasn't signed off on it. 

Mr. Trump hasn't shied away from broadcasting his disdain for CNN. 

As a candidate, he promised to stop the $85 billion merger between AT&T and CNN's parent company, Time Warner. 

CBS News has learned that Mr. Trump's Justice Department told AT&T during a meeting Monday that for the deal to go through, the company must sell CNN. 

Are consumers the losers in the AT&T - Time Warner merger?

But adviser Kellyanne Conway insists the White House isn't involved in the Justice Department's anti-trust review.

The White House issued a statement  Wednesday night saying, "The President did not speak with the Attorney General about this matter, and no White House official was authorized to speak with the Department of Justice on this matter."

A person familiar with the talks pointed to Mr. Trump's frequent bashing of CNN and said he and other White House officials have made it clear to AT&T, on multiple occasions, that they're dissatisfied with CNN. 

In one case, sources say in January President-elect Trump raised his irritation with CNN directly with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson during a meeting at Trump Tower. That same day, Mr. Trump tweeted that "CNN is in a total meltdown" and "their credibility will soon be gone." 

On Wednesday morning, AT&T's chief financial officer said on a conference call this type of merger hasn't been blocked for over 40 years. 

The Justice Department has a different account. The agency says AT&T offered to divest the network and the government flatly rejected it. 

In a statement, AT&T's CEO said in part: "I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so." 

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    Julianna Goldman is a CBS News correspondent based in the Washington bureau.