WH says Trump not influenced by Cohen payments

AT&T Chief Calls Hiring Michael Cohen as Consultant a 'Big Mistake'

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the US print edition of The Wall Street Journal (May 12, 2018).

In an internal memo to employees, CEO Randall Stephenson called the hiring a "serious misjudgment, '" and said that the company's chief lobbyist in Washington is leaving.

"Our reputation has been damaged", Mr. Stephenson wrote in a memo to staff.

Hours before her briefing, AT&T's CEO said his company's financial arrangement with Cohen, all $600K of it, had been a big mistake.

AT&T has said Cohen approached employees in the company's Washington office shortly after the election.

Mr. Cohen also reached out to Ford Motor Co., but the auto maker turned him down, according to people familiar with the matter.

AT&T's apology came after drug maker Norvartis, which paid Cohen more than $1 million, also said its association with Cohen was a mistake.

Internal AT&T documents obtained by The Washington Post show how AT&T agreed to pay $600,000 to Cohen previous year in exchange for guidance on policy matters, including issues it is facing at the Federal Communications Commission and its proposed deal with Time Warner.

AT&T paid Essential Consultants LLC, a firm set up by Cohen, a total of US$600,000 a year ago for advice on working with the Trump administration.

The Dallas-based telecom giant spent more than $350 million on advocacy in the past 20 years - including almost $17 million last year alone.

The FBI raided Cohen's home and office in April, as part of a probe being conducted by NY federal prosecutors.

Time Warner was not aware of AT&T's contract with Cohen, according to a person familiar with the company's thinking.

The statement continued: "To be clear, everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate".

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David's number one priority is to 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.

Companies often hire consultants to explain the federal bureaucracy to them.

Avenue Strategies also denied ever working with AT&T, saying in a statement "Avenue Strategies has never worked for AT&T".

Cohen's friend conceded Cohen might have done some questionable things, but maintained he likely didn't do it knowing he was breaking the law. "Nobody's going to pay you $600,000 to tell you something you could have read in your paper this morning", Mr. Sandstrom said.

In other words: If AT&T hired Cohen to win the government's approval, AT&T wasted its $600,000.

Novartis officials said Cohen approached them, as well. He denies any encounter took place.

These are the "insights" that AT&T previously said it hired Cohen for. The Department of Justice filed suit in November to block the deal, a case that is still pending. The two sides have spent the past two months battling in federal court.

The judge in the case is expected to issue a ruling by or on June 12.

Three days after Trump was sworn into office, the telecommunications company turned to Cohen for help on a wide portfolio of issues pending before the federal government - including the Time Warner merger, according to documents The Post obtained.

Nevertheless, his lawyer's actions could at least amount to pretty bad optics for a president who ran on the premise that he would unleash Washington from the control of "donors, special interests or lobbyists" - and that he would surround himself with "the best people" in order to do so.

Sanders also got asked again about that recent Trump tweet in which he said "91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake)" and suggested taking away credentials.

AT&T Inc. has few peers when it comes to corporate influence in Washington.

The lobbying group will, for now, report to General Counsel David McAtee.

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