Business

AT&T calls paying Trump lawyer Michael Cohen 'a big mistake'

AT&T has ousted its top lobbyist, and the wireless carrier's CEO said in a memo it was "big mistake" to hire Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney, for advice on working with the Trump administration.

AT&T, which has a proposed merger before the courts, is among a number of companies that paid Cohen

Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney, is shown on April 13 in New York City. AT&T called on Cohen to advise the company on working with the new administration, but ended that arrangement around the time the special counsel began asking questions. (Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

AT&T ousted its top lobbyist on Friday, and the wireless carrier's CEO said in a memo it was "big mistake" to hire Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney, for advice on working with the Trump administration.

AT&T paid Essential Consultants LLC, a firm set up by Cohen, a total of $600,000 US in 2017 for advice on working with the Trump administration. AT&T said Cohen and others were hired to help navigate "a wide range of issues," including its proposed $85-billion merger with Time Warner Inc., AT&T said in the memo seen by Reuters.

The disclosure of AT&T's relationship with Cohen has turned into a major embarrassment for the telecommunications company as it awaits a U.S. judge's decision, due June 12, on whether it can go through with the purchase of Time Warner, a deal that has been denounced by Trump.

AT&T said in the memo it did not hire Cohen to lobby on its behalf. The one-year contract at $50,000 per month, ran from January through December 2017 and was limited to consulting and advisory services.

AT&T never asked Cohen to set up meetings with anyone in the Trump administration, and he did not offer to do so, it said in the memo.

"To be clear, everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate," Stephenson wrote in the memo. "But the fact is our past association with Cohen was a serious misjudgment."

Cohen was also not registered as a lobbyist.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, seen April 19 in Washington, D.C., promised employees in a letter the company would adhere to a higher standard in its lobbying efforts after a 'serious misjudgment.' (Carlos Barria//Reuters)

Earlier this week, the telecommunications giant said it had co-operated when contacted late last year by investigators from the office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel looking into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign.

Stephenson admitted in the letter to employees that the company's "reputation has been damaged."

He said going forward Quinn's replacement would "ensure every one of the individuals and firms we use in the political arena are people who share our high standards and who we would be proud to have associated with AT&T."

Novartis paid $1.2M for 1 meeting

The AT&T payments were revealed by Michael Avenatti, lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Avenatti also said a company owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and other corporations had paid Essential Consultants for certain services.

Essential Consultants paid $130,000 to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, days before the 2016 presidential election as part of a nondisclosure agreement that barred her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. He denies any encounter took place.

AT&T's proposed merger with Time Warner is in limbo. The Justice Department has sued to block the $85-billion deal, saying it would hurt competition and consumers would have to pay more to watch their favourite shows.

The pharmaceutical giant Novartis acknowledged Wednesday it paid Cohen $1.2 million for services, though the relationship ended after a single meeting.

The corporate ties could suggest Cohen was peddling his influence and profiting from his relationship with the president. They also raise questions about whether Trump knew about the arrangement.

With files from The Associated Press

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