Democrats demand answers on AT&T’s $600,000 payment to Trump’s lawyer

Congressional Democrats are asking US regulators for information on whether AT&T payments to President Trump’s personal lawyer were made in order to influence the government’s review of AT&T’s merger with Time Warner Inc.

AT&T paid $600,000 to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, “the same vehicle he used in October 2016 to direct $130,000 to the adult-film actress known professionally as Stormy Daniels to stay silent about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr.

Trump in 2006,” wrote yesterday.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) yesterday asked the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division for answers.

“Although AT&T has stated that the payments were for ‘insights into understanding the new administration,’ the amount and timing of the payments suggest that they may have been part of an attempt to influence the outcome of the AT&T/Time Warner merger investigation,” Klobuchar and Cicilline wrote to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim.

AT&T failed to convince DOJ

Any effort by AT&T to obtain DOJ approval of its merger was a failure. The DOJ filed a lawsuit to block AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner in November 2017, though AT&T could still complete the merger if it gets a favorable court ruling.

AT&T’s payments “continued until just after the Antitrust Division sued to block the deal,” Klobuchar and Cicilline wrote.

AT&T has tried to prove that Trump influenced the DOJ’s decision to file the lawsuit, given that Trump promised to block the deal when he was campaigning for president.

AT&T has benefited from other Trump administration decisions, such as its moves to end net neutrality and broadband privacy rules.

The Democratic lawmakers asked Delrahim to “disclose any information that you may have concerning payments made by AT&T that may have influenced the Administration, White House, or transition regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction.” They also urged him to “oppose any attempt by the White House or any adviser to the President to interfere with antitrust law enforcement actions.”

Cohen has been Trump’s personal attorney since before he became president. The FBI raided Cohen’s office last month as part of a criminal investigation for “possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations,”  wrote at the time.

Contract ended in December 2017

AT&T acknowledged the payments to Cohen publicly, while drugmaker Novartis admitted it paid Cohen $1.2 million. “Both spent shareholder money on Mr. Cohen, who appears to have produced little help,” the wrote. “Yet if evidence later surfaces that he materially assisted them, the companies will face further scrutiny.”

AT&T has told media outlets that it paid Cohen’s company starting in early 2017 to “provide insights into understanding the new administration.” The company “did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017,” AT&T said.

“It was not until the following month in January 2018 that the media first reported, and AT&T first became aware of, the current controversy surrounding Cohen,” AT&T told employees in a memo yesterday, the wrote.

We asked AT&T about the concerns raised in the Congressional Democrats’ letter and will update this story if we get a response.

“[P]olitical influence in antitrust law enforcement is unacceptable,” Klobuchar and Cicilline wrote. “And the [Trump] Administration has not provided details on AT&T’s reported payments to Essential Consultants LLC or the President’s Inaugural Committee despite our repeated inquiries for information into whether any White House, Transition, or Administration officials may have attempted to exert influence over the AT&T and Time Warner transaction.”

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