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Government never tried to force CNN sale in AT&T-Time Warner deal, official says

The Justice Department pushed back Thursday on allegations that it is trying to get AT&T to sell CNN and other properties as part of its plans to acquire Time Warner.

Instead, the DOJ presented AT&T with several options by which it might be willing to satisfy anti-trust concerns, but never demanded a CNN sale, a government official familiar with the discussions told CNBC.

The official called the accusation that the government was trying to force a CNN sale "shocking" and countered that AT&T was attempting to make the matter political.

"They're trying to make this a political issue. It's not," the official said.

The government suggested that AT&T sell either Time Warner, which owns CNN, or Direct TV, the official added.

In an unusual back and forth played out in the media, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company would not consider divesting CNN. Stephenson himself gave credence to Thursday's statements out of the DOJ.

"I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN," Stephenson said at the DealBook conference in New York.