Democrats to probe Trump actions on AT&T, Amazon.com: Axios

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When Democrats take control of the U.S. House they plan to investigate the Trump administration’s decision to try to block AT&T Inc (T.N) from acquiring Time Warner, and whether officials sought to punish Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) by prodding the U.S. Post Office to hike shipping prices for the world’s largest e-commerce company, a senior Democrat said on Sunday.

An AT&T logo is pictured in Pasadena, California, U.S., January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Speaking to online publication Axios, Representative Adam Schiff, who is expected to be the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Democrats will review if Trump was trying to punish the major firms with “instruments of state power to punish the press.”

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, while Time Warner’s holdings include CNN. Trump has lambasted both outlets frequently for their critical coverage of his administration.

“It is very squarely within our responsibility to find out,” he told Axios in an interview that will air Sunday on HBO.

Schiff said Trump “was secretly meeting with the postmaster [general] in an effort to browbeat the postmaster [general] into raising postal rates on Amazon… This appears to be an effort by the president to use the instruments of state power to punish Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post,” Schiff said.

Trump has repeatedly complained Amazon does not pay the U.S. Postal Service a fair rate for package delivery. Trump has said, without citing evidence, that this costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, and he has threatened to raise the company’s postal rates.

Trump opposed the AT&T-Time Warner merger as a candidate and has repeatedly attacked CNN and last week a CNN reporter’s White House press pass was suspended.

Schiff also said “we don’t know, for example, whether the effort to hold up the merger of the parent of CNN was a concern over antitrust, or whether this was an effort merely to punish CNN.”

The Justice Department is appealing a federal judge’s approval of the $85.4 billion AT&T acquisition of Time Warner.

A spokesman for AT&T and spokeswoman for Amazon.com did not immediately comment on Sunday.

Representative Elijah Cummings, the expected incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the committee “may want to look into” if the White House retaliated against Amazon and AT&T.

He also said on ABC’s “This Week” that he intends to investigate the Trump administration in a number of areas, including whether Trump may have violated the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution and other possible conflicts of interest such as whether Trump killed plans to re-locate the new headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation because moving it could harm his business interests in the Trump Hotel across the street.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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