CHARLOTTE, N.C. (
) -- Now the attorney general is speaking publicly about settlement terms for a merger between
, the best indication yet that this case is headed for a settlement.
It has always seemed likely that the case would be settled on Monday, Nov. 25, the first day of a scheduled trial in U.S. District Court, where Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, signaling her preference for a settlement, scheduled a trial for Thanksgiving week. That would be a deal made at the last minute, as deals often are.
On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at a news conference involving another case, said settlement talks are "ongoing (and) we hope that we will be able to resolve this short of trial.
"What we have tried to focus on is to make sure that any resolution in this case necessarily included divestitures of facilities at key constrained airports throughout the United States," Holder said. "That, for us, is something that has to be a part of -- of any resolution.
"Our concern is making sure that we look at, as we have -- as we do in all cases that the antitrust division brings, to make sure that we bring benefit to consumers. We certainly alleged in the complaint the concerns that we've had. And there are a number of ways, I think, that we can deal with those concerns."
Asked whether he had a magic number of slots that would have to be divested to enable a deal, Holder responded, "Yes, there is, but I won't tell you what it is."
The day before, news of settlement talks was leaked to
The Wall Street Journal
. This is how these matters are often resolved. People always say they do not want to negotiate in the newspaper. But the truth is that newspapers often provide efficient venues not only for parties to lay out their cases, but also but also for negotiations to take place because the parties can throw out suggestions and gauge the response without formally offering anything.
The Justice Department shocked the airline industry on Aug. 13, when it said it would sue to block the planned merger. But since then nothing has gone the Justice Department's way.