Top AT&T executives swept into Trump Tower on Thursday for a discussion with President-elect Donald Trump that did not include the telecom giant's $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, company officials said.
AT&T later said in a statement that Stephenson had "a very good meeting" with Trump but that the Time Warner merger "was not a topic of discussion."
"The conversation focused on how AT&T can work with the Trump administration to increase investment in the U.S., stimulate job creation in America, and make American companies more competitive globally," the company said.
Thursday's session makes AT&T the latest high-profile company to meet with Trump after the president-elect's series of job-related talks with firms such as Softbank, Carrier and a bevy of tech companies including Google, Facebook and Apple.
AT&T's massive merger is still pending. With Trump having publicly opposed the deal, the acquisition may have been a sensitive subject the Stephenson and Quinn sought to avoid.
To complete the purchase, AT&T must persuade the federal government that the deal would not harm competition. The agency most likely to oversee the process is the Justice Department, analysts say, although the Federal Communications Commission may also play a role.
Trump's criticism of the deal is unusual, according to experts, who say presidents typically do not seek to dictate the outcome of investigations or proceedings conducted by the government's nonpolitical staff. But Trump could have indirect influence over how the deal is reviewed through his politically confirmed appointments to the agency's leadership.
Trump's pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), told a Senate panel this week that he favored limiting the scope of merger conditions that are sometimes applied to companies that are seeking a combination. These conditions are typically imposed by regulators in an effort to prevent an enlarged firm from abusing its power. The Justice Department can require targeted divestments to reduce the overall size of a firm, or the FCC could apply behavioral requirements that seek to constrain how a business may act after a merger.
AT&T has recently argued that the FCC need not get involved in the review of its deal with Time Warner. This could benefit AT&T by removing telecom regulators from the equation and potentially ease the deal's approval in Washington.