When Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti first leaked wire transfer records showing that corporations including AT&T, Novartis, Korea Aerospace and Viktor Vekselberg's Columbus Nova had paid hundreds of thousands in "consultant" fees to Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen (which, it turns out, while frowned upon are perfectly legal in the Washington swamp, just as it is legal to "donate" millions to a Clinton charity
to buy influence), we congratulated Cohen for having the sheer temerity to hustle major corporations into believing he knew something he did not (as all his brand new clients would soon find out).
Then overnight, we learned that Cohen's corporate hustling was even more remarkable than initially reported, with the WaPo reported that AT&T paid Cohen up to $600,000 for "insights" - about $400,000 more than that alleged by Michael Avenatti - and asked him to specifically look into its proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner Inc as it sought government antitrust approval.
As the WaPo adds "It is unclear what insight Cohen — a longtime real estate attorney and former taxi cab operator — could have provided AT&T on complex telecom matters."
The unstated message, naturally, is that AT&T "sponsored" Cohen to influence Trump to fast-track the merger; instead AT&T's plan backfired dramatically and while AT&T may or may not have
bribed sponsored Trump's attorney, Trump's DOJ remains engaged in a bitter fight seeking to block the proposed megamerger. In other words, had AT&T simply burned the $600,000, it would have had a higher return on its investment.
Actually it was even worse, because instead of getting a favorable outcome on its investment, all AT&T got was to testify to Robert Mueller about the money: as reported previously, AT&T and pharma giant Novartis, another Cohen "client", said this week that they provided information about their dealings with Trump’s lawyer to special counsel Robert Mueller III last year. Cohen is also under investigation by prosecutors in New York for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations.
Meanwhile, as Americans get a glimpse of how things really get done in DC, a “scope of work” describing Cohen’s contract in an internal AT&T document stated that he was hired to “focus on specific long-term planning initiatives as well as the immediate issue of corporate tax reform and the acquisition of Time Warner.” Cohen was also directed to “creatively address political and communications issues” facing the company and advise the company on matters before the Federal Communications Commission.
In an internal email to AT&T employees on Wednesday, the company said that Cohen was one of several consultants it hired to get advice on the administration’s approach on antitrust enforcement - as it sought approval for the deal that Trump had criticized - as well as a corporate tax overhaul and "regulatory reform" before the Federal Communications Commission.
However, as Bloomberg adds, the commission chairman, Ajit Pai, said Thursday that the commission never heard from Cohen. "No," Pai responded when asked at a news conference about any inquiries arranged by Cohen on possible changes to the commission’s Obama administration requirements that internet services treat all web content equally.
Meanwhile, as part of the DOJ's lawsuit to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, a federal judge is slated to issue his ruling in that case June 12.
Finally, AT&T said in the internal email that "Cohen did no legal or lobbying work for us, and our contract with Cohen expired at the end of its term in December 2017." The company also said that "it was not until the following month in January 2018 that the media first reported, and AT&T first became aware of, the current controversy surrounding Cohen."
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Below is the AT&T email in full:
From: T Now
Sent: Wednesday, May 09, 2018 12:10 PM
Subject: Perspective on the news
To: All U.S. AT&T employees
Late yesterday, many media outlets reported that in 2017, AT&T hired Michael Cohen, a former lawyer with the Trump Organization. We want you to know the facts.
In early 2017, as President Trump was taking office, we hired several consultants to help us understand how the President and his administration might approach a wide range of policy issues important to the company, including regulatory reform at the FCC, corporate tax reform and antitrust enforcement. Companies often hire consultants for these purposes, especially at the beginning of a new Presidential Administration, and we have done so in previous Administrations, as well.
Cohen was one of those consultants. Cohen did no legal or lobbying work for us, and our contract with Cohen expired at the end of its term in December 2017. It was not until the following month in January 2018 that the media first reported, and AT&T first became aware of, the current controversy surrounding Cohen.