Q. I read that AT&T and DIRECTV gave money to President Trump’s lawyer. I haven’t liked DIRECTV ever since AT&T took it over and now I dislike it even more! Why on earth would they give money to Trump’s lawyer? He’s such as sleaze bag! If they don’t explain, I’m dumping DIRECTV! — Carl, Falls Church, Virginia.
Carl, let me try to explain.
The Washington Post (and several other news organizations) this week reported that AT&T last year gave $600,000 to Essential Consultants, a company controlled by Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney.
DIRECTV did not have anything to do with the payment, although you could argue that it did by association because AT&T owns the satellite TV service. But the $600,000 fee had nothing to do with DIRECTV’s business per se.
AT&T gave Cohen’s company the money because it said it wanted ‘advice’ on the company’s pending merger with Time Warner.
President Trump had expressed opposition to the deal during the 2016 campaign so it would appear the telco was hoping that a payment to Cohen might somehow persuade the president to change his mind.
AT&T is not saying that was the reason behind the payment — it’s sticking to the ‘advice’ explanation — but it’s not uncommon (or illegal) in Washington, D.C. to hire an associate of a powerful official that you are trying to influence. (It’s not illegal so long as there is no stated quid pro quo with the money.).
Of course, the payment to Cohen’s firm has turned into a disaster for AT&T for two reasons.
One, President Trump’s Justice Department decided to oppose the merger anyway by filing a lawsuit to block it. (A U.S. District Court judge is expected to rule on the case next month.)
And two, Cohen has become a central figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion between the Russian government and the president’s 2016 campaign.
The AT&T payment would seem to have nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, but if your company is mentioned in the same headline with Cohen now, it’s a PR nightmare. Some of your company’s customers (like you, Carl) might not like the association.
Carl, the AT&T payment story will likely peter out in the next few days, barring any other unforeseen developments. But I can guarantee that you are not the only one who wishes AT&T never made the payment to Cohen’s company.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is likely on that list, too.
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