AT&T: Cohen Payments Not for Lobbying

AT&T says the money it paid to Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen's Essential Consultants, reportedly at least $200,000, was not for legal or lobbying work.

The payment came to light as one of several payments to Cohen totaling more than a million dollars, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Russian oligarch, identified by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, as having been contributed to Cohen's company.

“Essential Consultants was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration," said AT&T in an emailed statement. Certainly no easy task given that the new President combined both a pro-business bent with a "drain the swamp" mantra, a swamp that he signaled included some major media businesses critical of him.

[Genachowski on AT&T/TW Suit: DOJ Has Hard Case to Prove]

One insight AT&T was certainly interested in is how the President viewed the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger. Candidate Trump had said his administration would block an effort to combine AT&T with CNN parent Time Warner. He has been a vocal critic of the cable news net as one of the ringleaders of what he says has been a liberal media "fake news" attack on his presidency.

The Justice Department wound up filing suit to block the deal unless AT&T would spin off CNN and other Time Warner assets--notably HBO, which Justice singled out.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the AT&T and other payments at the daily press conference, but declined to address whether that was the sort of pay-for-access, "swampy," behavior that the president had pledged to drain, and referred the questioner to the President's outside counsel.

Asked if the President had expressed any concerns about major companies giving money to someone close to him at the same time they had major business before the government--in the case of AT&T a proposed Time Warner merger the President had vowed to block--Sanders said she "had not heard" the President express any such concerns.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.