Speed Reads

L'Affaire Cohen

AT&T apparently paid Michael Cohen $600,000 to help advise on its Time Warner merger, telecom policy

Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, was wrong: AT&T did not pay Michael Cohen, a personal lawyer for President Trump, $200,000 last year, as Avenatti said on Tuesday; the company paid Cohen $600,000, or $50,000 a month, for, among other things, "specific long-term planning initiatives as well as the immediate issue of corporate tax reform and the acquisition of Time Warner," according to a "scope of work" contract obtained by The Washington Post. AT&T is trying to complete an $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, and Trump had vowed to block the deal during the campaign; the Justice Department filed suit to thwart the merger in November.

AT&T is one of several corporations that paid Cohen at least $2.95 million through a shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, that he had set up to secretly pay Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair she said she had with Trump in 2006. Like other companies, AT&T said it hired Cohen and other "consultants" last year to give it an insight into the new administration. Along with the $600,000 to Cohen, AT&T donated $2 million to Trump's inaugural committee plus $80,000 in telecommunications equipment.

The Cohen contract represents about 3.5 percent of the $16.8 million AT&T reported spending on lobbying in 2017, though Cohen was explicitly hired for policy intitatives, not to lobby. "It is unclear what insight Cohen — a longtime real estate attorney and former taxicab operator — could have provided AT&T on complex telecom matters," the Post notes, adding that Cohen was also paid for health-care policy, accounting practices, and real estate. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday that Trump was unaware of Cohen's lucrative consulting work. Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan told employees Thursday that "we made a mistake in entering into this engagement" with Cohen and its disclosure "was not a good day for Novartis."