The Justice Department today asked a federal judge to postpone or withdraw its petition to stop AT&T (NYSE: T) from acquiring T-Mobile. It cited a shifting regulatory landscape that makes the lawsuit unnecessary.
The request, as reported by Bloomberg, appears to be part of the strategic tit-for-tat between AT&T and the regulators who are determined to stop the merger.
The new move by the Justice Department, which filed its antitrust suit in August, comes on the heels of the phone giant’s decision to yank its approval application from the FCC. AT&T had decided to withdraw the approval application before the broadcast regulator, which had publicly voiced disapproval, could formally say no.
An attorney for the Justice Department argued that the case should be halted because it’s a waste of taxpayer resources to continue litigating a case that is effectively moot. The government’s position is based on the fact that AT&T can’t go forward without FCC approval and, now that the approval application is withdrawn, it is unlikely that the deal can close by a contractual deadline in September. AT&T replied that it wants its day in court so that it can obtain a legal green-light that it can take back to the FCC.
The parties will appear in court on December 15 to make further arguments about whether the government can postpone or withdraw the suit.
If the Justice Department succeeds in withdrawing the suit, it will have effectively outflanked the phone companies by forcing the clock on the deal to run out.
If the deal fails, AT&T will be obliged to pay T-Mobile a $4 billion break-up fee. The company’s CEO recently said the fee wouldn’t hurt that much because most of it could used as a tax deduction.