Trump used 'almost mob-style extortion' to try to convince AT&T to sell CNN to Rupert Murdoch, new book claims

Trump used 'almost mob-style extortion' to try to convince AT&T to sell CNN to Rupert Murdoch, new book claims
Former President Donald Trump, left, and Rupert Murdoch, right, in a composite image.Getty Images
  • Trump and his aides tried to push AT&T's CEO to sell CNN to Rupert Murdoch, a new book claims.
  • AT&T's CEO was "beyond pissed," and executives described "almost mob-style extortion," per the book.

Former President Donald Trump and his aides repeatedly tried to persuade AT&T to sell CNN to Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch while also threatening to block the company's merger with Time Warner, CNN's parent company, according to a new book.

The revelation comes from a pre-release copy of Peter Baker and Susan Glasser's "The Divider," which the Independent obtained and reported.

The book said that Trump summoned Randall Stephenson, the chairman and CEO of AT&T until 2020, to his office in Trump Tower shortly after winning the election in 2016.

During this meeting, the book said that Trump complained about CNN's boss at the time, Jeff Zucker, claiming to have "got" him that role and calling him a "bad guy."

Stephenson, per the Independent's reporting, left the meeting with the feeling that Trump posed a threat to the AT&T and Time Warner merger.


In the weeks following this interaction, AT&T controversially donated to Trump's inaugural committee and paid Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer at the time, for his services as a consultant. AT&T was seeking government approval for its acquisition of Time Warner during this period.

Stephenson later apologized to his employees for paying Cohen, referring to the decision in 2018 as a "bad mistake."

In May 2017, the book said that Murdoch, the billionaire media mogul and founder of Fox News, called Stephenson and asked: "How's the deal going?"

Per the Independent's reporting on the book, Murdoch offered to buy CNN from AT&T and remarked that it "would help get the deal done."

According to the book, Stephenson said he was not interested in selling CNN.


Three months later, Murdoch called again with another offer to buy CNN, per the book. It followed a White House dinner with Trump, Jared Kushner, and the former White House chief of Staff John Kelly, according to the Independent.

Stephenson once again rejected the offer. According to an AT&T executive, per the book, Stephenson was "beyond pissed" by the calls and saw it as being part of an "outrageous abuse of power."

The book said that AT&T viewed the calls as "an implicit quid pro quo" in which Trump would not push the government to block the merger with Time Warner if AT&T divested CNN to the owner of a competitor that had covered him sympathetically, per the Independent.

The book said AT&T executives viewed the calls as "almost mob-style extortion," according to the Independent.

In November 2017, the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit over the AT&T acquisition. Richard J. Leon, a senior judge of the US District Court in Washington, ultimately ruled in favor of AT&T, allowing the acquisition to go ahead. The companies completed their merger in June 2018.