Exclusive: AT&T CEO says Cohen payments ‘big mistake,’ chief lobbyist retiring

 

FILE PHOTO: Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson arrives at a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., U.S. April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barri

(Reuters) – Hiring President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was a “big mistake,” AT&T Inc Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said in an employee memo, reviewed by Reuters, that went out Friday morning. AT&T’s head lobbyist, Bob Quinn, who oversaw the hiring of Cohen, is retiring, according to the memo.AT&T said on Tuesday it had hired Essential Consultants LLC, a company used by Cohen, to advise it on working with the new administration in early 2017, around the time of Trump’s inauguration. The disclosure of AT&T’s relationship with Cohen has turned into a major embarrassment for the telecommunications company as it awaits a U.S. judge’s June 12 decision on whether it can go through with an $85 billion deal to buy Time Warner Inc. U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York City, U.S., May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid The deal, which was announced in October 2016, was quickly denounced by Trump, who has been sharply critical of CNN, a unit of Time Warner. “To be clear, everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate,” Stephenson wrote in the memo. “But the fact is our past association with Cohen was a serious misjudgment.” AT&T did not hire Cohen to lobby on behalf of the company, according to the memo. The one-year contract at $50,000 per month, from January through December 2017, was limited to consulting and advisory services, according to the memo. AT&T never asked Cohen to set up meetings for the company with anyone in the Trump administration, and he did not offer to do so, according to the memo. AT&T’s board of directors does not hold Stephenson responsible for the lack of vetting, according to a source familiar with the situation. The AT&T payments were revealed by Michael Avenatti, adult film actress Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, who also said a company owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and other corporations paid Essential Consultants for certain services. Essential Consultants paid $130,000 to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, days before the 2016 presidential election as part of a nondisclosure agreement that barred her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. He denies any encounter took place.