AT&T CEO denies considering sale of CNN in massive Time Warner deal

The executive expressed frustration with the leaks out of the negotiations.

— -- The CEO of AT&T said he feels no pressure nor has any intention of selling CNN or any more valuable asset in order to close its $85.4 billion deal with Time Warner.

“No. I have never been told that the price of getting the [Time Warner] deal done was selling CNN," said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

The high-stakes acquisition is being held up by the Department of Justice, which has raised red flags for some after President Donald Trump campaigned on blocking the deal because it put too much "power in the hands of too few." The deal would include CNN, a constant target for criticism for the president who has regularly blasted the news company for "fake news."

"Are we really going to make the [Justice Department] use antitrust law to force the sale of a cable channel because the president doesn't like its news coverage?" tweeted Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission. "You can dislike consolidation but still find this extremely disturbing if true."

In a statement to ABC News, Department of Justice's new antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, said, “I have never been instructed by the White House on this or any other transaction under review by the antitrust division.”

The White House also denies Trump spoke with Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the merger deal.

"The president did not speak with the attorney general about this matter," said principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah. "And no White House official was authorized to speak with the Department of Justice on this matter."

A Department of Justice official told ABC News that AT&T offered to sell CNN as part of the deal. But the AT&T CEO says he and the company did no such thing.

Nevertheless, the Justice Department says it flatly denied the proposal for AT&T to sell CNN, insisting it wouldn't necessarily resolve their concerns.

According to a Justice Department source, AT&T first raised the possibility of selling off CNN. The source said the Department of Justice told AT&T that one way to resolve concerns is to sell off Turner, which owns CNN, but the Justice Department did not support selling just CNN. Another way to resolve the concerns, the Department of Justice told AT&T, is to sell off DirecTV, according to the source.

Craig Aaron, the president of Free Press, a consumer group who opposes media consolidation in general, denounced the deal.

"While there are plenty of good reasons to oppose AT&T's Time Warner takeover, punishing CNN for trying to hold this administration accountable isn't one of them," Aaron said in a statement.

If the company that wants to acquire the other -- in this case AT&T and Time Warner, respectively -- cannot agree on conditions with the Justice Department, the government can sue to block the deal. AT&T can then take the department to court, a process that has no precedent on this scale under the current administration.

“I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN,” Stephenson said. “And likewise I have never offered to sell CNN. There is absolutely no intention that we would ever sell CNN. So take those two off the table.”

The AT&T CEO went on to express frustration with leaks coming out of the negotiations with the Justice Department, calling the reports "rumors and suppositions."