Sun, May 13, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Hiring Michael Cohen was a ‘big mistake’: AT&T


AT&T Inc on Friday ousted its top lobbyist, and the No. 2 wireless carrier’s chief executive officer said in a memo it was a “big mistake” to hire Michael Cohen, US 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 US$600,000 last year for advice on working with the Trump administration.

Cohen and others were hired to help navigate “a wide range of issues,” including AT&T’s proposed US$85 billion merger with Time Warner Inc, the company said in the memo.

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

It did not hire Cohen to lobby on its behalf, AT&T said, adding that his one-year contract at US$50,000 per month, ran from January through December last year 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.

“To be clear, everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate, but the fact is our past association with Cohen was a serious misjudgment,” AT&T chief executive officer Randall Stephenson wrote.

Stephenson said he took responsibility for the Washington team’s failure to vet Cohen.

AT&T’s head lobbyist, Bob Quinn, who oversaw the hiring of Cohen, is retiring, the memo said.

However, two sources familiar with the situation said that Quinn was forced to retire.

The sources wished to remain anonymous because they are not permitted to speak to the media.

Quinn did not respond to a request for comment.

AT&T’s board of directors does not hold Stephenson responsible for the lack of vetting, one source said.

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

Avenatti would not say how he obtained the information.

Drugmaker Novartis on Wednesday said it had a US$1.2 million contract with Cohen’s firm, but soon realized the agreement was a mistake.

Essential Consultants paid US$130,000 to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, as part of an agreement that barred her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.

Shares of AT&T were up 1.2 percent to US$32.25 at the close of trading on Friday.

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