The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported last month that in 2017, Mr. Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to persuade antitrust authorities to file against AT&T’s purchase of the cable television company, which includes CNN. “I’ve mentioned it 50 times. And nothing’s happened,” the president allegedly said to John Kelly, who was chief of staff at the time. “I want that deal blocked!” Mr. Cohn, Ms. Mayer writes, told Mr. Kelly not to comply — but the Justice Department did bring suit and eventually lost in court.
Lawmakers have rightly been seeking more information about Mr. Trump’s alleged attempted meddling in the Antitrust Division’s decision, whether it was to reward Fox News because the outlet has been favorable to him or to hurt CNN because it has not. If he did intercede, it was a grave offense to press freedom and the rule of law, and one the president ought to be held accountable for. Unfortunately, accountability is not this administration’s strong suit: This week, the White House rejected a House Judiciary Committee request for documents on related discussions with the Justice Department, claiming executive privilege. The Justice Department, similarly, has yet to respond to multiple requests.
Even the appearance of impropriety in antitrust enforcement is damaging to public trust. T-Mobile executives spent $195,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington after the carrier announced its plan to purchase competitor Sprint. Any decision the Justice Department makes on the merger will now be viewed through that lens: The company has at least given the appearance of believing it could exert influence over enforcers through the chief executive. Who could blame consumers for thinking the same thing?
The Justice Department might have made its decision on the merits, as antitrust chief Makan Delrahim has insisted. Or Mr. Trump might have managed to persuade an associate to strong-arm the department. Or he might otherwise have signaled to Mr. Delrahim — who was on the record saying he did not “see this [merger] as a major antitrust problem” before he became Mr. Trump’s pick — what position he was expected to take. Unless the White House changes course or the Justice Department decides to be much more forthcoming, Congress will have to do more than ask nicely to find answers.