AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson now believes that hiring Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, was a “serious misjudgment.” The industry giant admitted to paying $600,000 to Cohen via Essential Consultants, a shell company Cohen created earlier to generate the payoff for adult film star Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels. AT&T hired Cohen to provide “insights” into the U.S. president’s administration, but some believe it’s possible Cohen was paid as a “fixer” to help kill Net Neutrality.
In 2017, Cohen has consulted with AT&T, Novartis, Columbus Nova, and Korea Aerospace Industries after Trump became president. On May 8, 2018, AT&T confirmed the payments.
“Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration,” said AT&T in a statement.
“They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.”
The timing seemed suspicious since Cohen was providing “insights into understanding the new administration” until December 17, 2017, which was three days after the FCC repealed Net Neutrality under the organization’s new chairman Ajit Pai. Democratic Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal alleges that AT&T and other companies “may well have been used to influence the president of the United States, using Michael Cohen and his shell company as a conduit.”
In response to such allegations, the AT&T CEO released the following memo.
“Team, Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days and our reputation has been damaged. There is no other way to say it – AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.
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. In this instance, our Washington D.C. team’s vetting process clearly failed, and I take responsibility for that.
Here is more information on this issue, if you’re interested. For the foreseeable future, the External & Legislative Affairs (E&LA) group will report to our General Counsel David McAtee. Bob Quinn, Senior Executive Vice President – E&LA, will be retiring. 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.”
The phone giant is currently embroiled in a major antitrust case with the Trump administration since AT&T tried to merge with Time Warner by acquiring the latter company for $85 billion. Based on the latest reports, it appears that AT&T has fired those involved in working with Cohen.