The merger's approval was a stinging defeat for the Justice Department, which could move to appeal Leon's ruling. The companies then entered into discussions with the DOJ past year and rumors surfaced that the agency had suggested some divestitures in order for AT&T to avoid an antitrust lawsuit.
The case has drawn attention from all sides including Sling TV's President Warren Schlichting, who testified against the merger.
"I conclude that the government has failed to meet its burden of proof", District Court Judge Richard Leon told the court. "It would be a lose/lose for us, and a win/win for them".
"AT&T is buying Time Warner, and thus CNN", Trump said at a campaign rally in 2016.
AT&T Inc, which owns DirecTV, awaits a court ruling on Tuesday that will determine if it can buy Time Warner Inc, a decision that could prompt a cascade of pay TV companies buying television and movie makers and the first big test of the Trump administration's antitrust teams.
"The government here has taken its best shot to oppose this merger", Leon said, speaking to a packed courtroom in an unusual session weeks after the trial ended.
But the most immediate effect of the deal will be on the already consolidated media market.
The judge rejected the government's argument that the merger would hurt competition in pay TV and cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars more to stream TV and movies. A loss for AT&T and Time Warner could have signaled a new era of government scrutiny over so-called "vertical mergers" and could have halted attempts by companies like Disney, Fox and Comcast to announce their own megadeals.
The lawyer added that the merger would be completed no later than June 20 of this year. Looming in the background of the deal has been Trump's long-running feud with Time Warner's CNN, which he has often derided as "failing" and a purveyor of "fake news". And in order to stay competitive, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson said during the trial that it needed a big deal to survive. President Donald Trump, while still a candidate, said he would block the deal "because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few".
Now that a federal judge has approved AT&T's $85 billion takeover of Time Warner, other companies are likely to rush to consolidate. If AT&T and Time Warner win, it will likely be full steam ahead.
"We are gratified that the court's decision to categorically reject the government's bid to block this historic merger", he said.
The mega-merger is a high-stakes bet by AT&T Inc. on the synergy between companies that produce news and entertainment and those that funnel it to consumers.