The head of AT&T is “taking responsibility” for the decision to hire President Donald Trump’s lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen, as a “consultant” in early 2017, just as the telecom giant was preparing to undergo a mega-merger with Time Warner that would require federal approval.
The Department of Justice is attempting to halt the deal, which remains locked in a court battle. But details of how AT&T tried to influence the process have trickled out in recent days, courtesy of Stormy Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, and subsequent press reports.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson addressed that scrutiny in his note to staff on Friday, which was first reported by Reuters (emphasis mine):
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 put 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.
Bob Quinn, the man in charge of AT&T’s External & Legislative Affairs arm, is also now “retiring,” Stephenson added.
Stephenson’s memo a day after the Washington Post published internal documents that expanded on Cohen’s $600,000 consulting gig for AT&T in more detail:
A “scope of work” describing Cohen’s contract in an internal AT&T document shows that he was hired to “focus on specific long-term planning initiatives as well as the immediate issue of corporate tax reform and the acquisition of Time Warner.”
He was also directed to “creatively address political and communications issues” facing the company and advise the company on matters before the Federal Communications Commission.
The internal AT&T documents show that Cohen was supposed to spend half his time on “legislative policy development” and the other half on “regulatory policy development.” Payments to Cohen were approved by two executives in AT&T’s public affairs office in Washington.
Terms like “External & Legislative Affairs,” “communications issues,” and “policy development” are polite euphemisms here for “access to the highest levels of the federal government.” The timing of Stephenson’s apology suggests that he’s sorry not for such shady lobbying practices, but that AT&T got caught.